Every couple will have some conflict at one point or another in their relationship. When these conflicts arise, whether small or large, a great deal can be told about the future of your relationship by how these issues are handled. How you interact with your partner during conflict and how these conflicts are managed and resolved, can help you answer this question "Will this relationship work?"
John Gottman, Ph.D., a psychologist and researcher reported that an unhappy marriage can increase your chances of becoming sick by 35% and you may die four years earlier than if you were in a happy relationship. Gottman describes four behavioral patterns during conflict that are consistent with unhappy relationships. These behavioral patterns are called "The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse" and they are as follows:
The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse:
1. Criticism: It is absolutely healthy to disagree, but attacking your partner is not beneficial. Character attacks are not useful in conflict resolution. Here is an example of a complaint versus a criticism: "I am upset that you did not bring milk home tonight" and "You forgot the milk again, I can't depend on you for anything, you are just not responsible." (this is used by women more frequently)
2. Contempt: This is one step from criticism. It is always disrespectful and includes such things as, insults, sneering, eye rolling and name calling. These behaviors do not rebuild the relationship they continually damage it and the relationship will continue to decline. When disagreeing try to remain respectful and focus on the specific issue at hand.
3. Defensiveness: This is a defense mechanism which may be a natural response, but does not facilitate reconciliation or resolution. You need to take responsibility for your actions and try not to make excuses. Many couples find themselves one upping each other with complaints. This is not a useful technique in problem solving and will take you off course from the specific issue you are trying to resolve.
4. Stonewalling: This is when you disengage from communication. Sometimes this can be healthy but if utilized frequently it can be ineffectual and the relationship will deteriorate. (this is used by men more frequently)
Most couples will use some of these behaviors occasionally. When they become frequent and the essence of conflict resolution you need to implement new coping strategies. The key to resolving conflict is communicating as effectively as possible. It is okay to feel angry as long as the anger is managed and communicated appropriately. Be aware of the Four Horsemen in your next disagreement and try to implement positive communication.
Disclaimer: This blog is not meant to be therapy or treatment, it is for informational purposes only.
Dr. Deb is a successful Psychologist who practices in New York City. She is an Anxiety Specialist who works with adolescents and adults providing both individual and couples counseling.