Let’s face it, communication isn’t easy. It can be intimidating, uncomfortable, and exhausting. Sometimes, it can leave you feeling worse than you felt before. This can often result in a lack of future communication within your relationships. The Gottman Institute highlighted four conflict styles that can hurt your relationship. These four conflict styles or communication patterns are known as the Four Horsemen. These conflict styles, including, criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling are proven to predict the outcome of a relationship or marriage.
1. Criticism: strikes at the character of your partner. Instead of saying “You never help around the house”, try saying, “I am feeling overwhelmed with the household responsibilities, do you think that you could help me with some of them? I would greatly appreciate that!”.
2. Contempt: If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. Contempt, such as name-calling, ridicule, mocking, and other harmful forms of communication. Instead of saying “It’s like I’m taking to a child” or “How could you be so stupid, it’s not that hard to do”, take a moment to reflect on the frustration you are feeling. This form of communication may feel good for you at the moment, but the harmful long-term effects will cause more harm than good.
3. Defensiveness: Sometimes this can be a natural defense. Other times, defensiveness signals to your partner that their concerns don’t matter. Let’s go with the example of when your partner asks you why you haven’t done the laundry yet. Instead of saying “I said I’d get to it. I have to do all of the other things you asked me to do”, say, “I understand that the laundry needs to be done, I have a few other things to do first. Is it ok if I do the laundry after?”.
4. Stonewalling: Also known as silence, shutting down, or avoiding. While this can be a natural response to feeling overwhelmed or flooded, it signals that you are resistant to repairs or communication. One way to avoid this is saying, “I am hearing you. Right now I am feeling flooded and overwhelmed. Before we speak about this, can I have a few minutes/hours to calm down and sort my thoughts out? We can talk about this as much as we need to, I just need some time to calm down”.
Tips to Follow:
- Keep talking: Regardless of what communication looks like, any communication is better than no communication.
- Look and listen for how your words are landing in your partner’s body and heart.
- Speak from “I” rather than “you”.
- Apologize when needed.
- Know that communication is non-negotiable in long-lasting relationships.
- Remember that it is ok for communication to be uncomfortable, frustrating, and messy.