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  • Writer's pictureLaura Roeven

Enhance your Relationships with 4 Easy Tips

A Review of Relationship Expert Dr. John Gottman’s Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

Dial back the Criticism and Swap with “I Statements”

In any relationship, we notice what concerns, irritates, and bothers us in the other people. One common response is to offer criticism to correct and illuminate the other’s world view. Not surprisingly, this does not enhance or grow a relationship. Criticism should be used sparingly like an expensive spice in cooking. It will cost you in a relationship to use too much. Another approach is to use “I statements”.

Here are a couple of examples to illustrate:

  • “You don’t tell me the whole plan and it drives me crazy that you don’t share what you are thinking.” vs. “I don’t feel like I have the whole picture. Are there more details that would help me to know about this?”

  • “You go to relax at the end of dinner while I am stuck cleaning up.” vs. “I’m feel really tired at the end of the day. Can we clean up dinner together?”

  • “You aren’t paying attention while I am talking to you.” vs. “I feel like when you don’t look at me when I am talking to you that you are not listening or valuing what I am saying.”

Transform Contempt by Focusing on Respect and Appreciation

Contempt in a relationship comes out as sarcasm, eye rolling, cynicism, name-calling, sneering, mockery, and hostile humor. Of toxic traits, this is the deadliest in any relationship. It has been proven to cause illness in the recipient of contempt over a few years. The antidote to contempt is respect and appreciation. Actively look for and name what is good in the other. This focus will allow new growth and love to emerge. What was closed and tight can begin to soften and relax.

Accept Responsibility for Your Part of the Relationship

One common response when something goes wrong is defensiveness. Gottman explains that we protect ourselves in the behavior of defensiveness either by “righteous indignation” or “playing the victim” (I wouldn’t have done that if you hadn’t). Gottman suggests accepting responsibility for your part in the disagreement to help the relationship resolve conflict. This drops blaming someone or something for your behavior. The cure to the argument is apologizing for what your part was in the conflict and owning it. It is amazing how much easier it is to move past hurt when we offer a sincere apology for our mistakes.

Stay Engaged

The last horseman Gottman describes in ending a relationship is stonewalling. This is walking away from communication puts a stop to seeking resolution or understanding. The end of talking is the same as closing the door on someone. We put up a barrier because of our anger and hurt and do not work to find middle ground or settle the rift. What works is to take a set break and return to the discussion. “I feel mad and don’t want to harm you with my words…Could we take a 20-minute break on this?” Both parties need to allow the person to walk away and calm down. Trust the conversation will continue. It is crucial to stay engaged with the other with the intent to listen and understand.

Fighting happens and is a sign of a healthy relationship because it shows both people care enough to put energy into the disagreement. It also is a sign of growth within the relationship. Keep focused on wishing to understand the other for the good of the relationship. You don’t have to agree or give in to a person. “I see your point of why you believe that. We think differently about this.” A relationship desires for understanding and a path forward. Those in the relationship can offer kindness, respect, space and appreciation for the relationship’s health and well-being.



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