The Four Relationship Killers: do you know them?

passive aggressive husband

The Four Relationship Killers — 

Relationship problems are common...And sometimes you have them over and over and over.

Now there is a lot of good research on relationship pathologies. So who can provide answers to relationship challenges?

Dr. John Gottman is an established researcher who offer his expertise in the area of couple communication.

You might remember him as the researcher in Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink who, after just a few minutes, could predict whether a couple would end up divorced.

John is a professor emeritus at the University of Washington and co-founder of the Gottman Institute. He’s published over 190 papers and authored more than 40 books, including:

 The Four Horsemen Of The Relationship Apocalypse

John has studied thousands of couples over his 40-year career. Four things came up again and again that indicated a relationship was headed for trouble. Some couples did them a lot and some others avoided them:

#1: Criticism

This is when someone points to their partner and says their personality or character is the problem. Here’s John:

Criticism is staging the problem in a relationship as a character flaw in a partner. Pdople who don't do criticism point a finger at themselves and they really have a very gentle way of starting up the discussion, minimizing the problem and talking about what they feel and what they need.

Ladies, are you listening? Because criticism is something women do a lot more than men. (Don’t worry, we’ll get to how the guys screw up soon enough.)

#2: Defensiveness

This is responding to relationship issues by counterattacking or whining. Here’s John:

The second horseman was defensiveness which is a natural reaction to being criticized. It takes two forms: counterattacking or acting like an innocent victim and whining. Again, people who communicate well were very different even when their partner was critical. They accepted the criticism, or even took responsibility for part of the problem. They said, “Talk to me, I want to hear how you feel about this.”

#3: Contempt

It’s the #1 predictor of breakups. Contempt is acting like you’re a better person than they are. Here’s John:

Contempt is talking down to their partner. Being insulting or acting superior. Not only did it predict relationship breakup, but it predicted the number of infectious illnesses that the recipient of contempt would have in the next four years when we measured health.

#4: Stonewalling

It’s shutting down or tuning out. It passively tells your partner, “I don’t care.” And 85% of the time it’s guys who do this. It includes the silent treatment and a dismissive attitude that doesn't yild easily to empathy or connection.

NOW, if we were to have a conversation with John Gottman, would you be curious to hear his opinion? I mean, the two last pillars for relationship destruction: contempt and stonewalling he describes are almost the perfect description for passive aggression!

Even when we can attribute contempt to old fashioned machista attitudes of male superiority, what seals the rejection is the cold shoulder. It demostrates immediately that there contempt ("you are inferior than me") joined to ("you don't deserve my connecting with you").

By using Gottman theory applied to passive aggressive behavior, me can see that this is a kind of pathology that is very frequent and very toxic. We have worked here in the possible generation of this pathology in a past childhood insecure attachment with important figures in the family.

Even then, here we see that the continuous impact of Contempt and Stonewalling in a relationship is lethal for its future.

If you recognize this impact in your own relationship, let's talk....Don't let this negative aspect destroy trust and affection. We can provide support and solutions to help you and your spouse manage negativity and change it into a sincere cooperation. I'm inviting you to post your comment and needs below, and I'll answer personally with my suggestions.

PD. Thanks to a post from http://www.bakadesuyo.com/2011/08/is-there-a-shortcut-to-bonding-with-a-romanti/

  1. Mel, 05 January, 2015

    I deal with contempt and stonewalling from my partner on a weekly basis. It is frustrating, demeaning and soul destroying. Am not sure how to handle it at all….

  2. Lorna, 05 January, 2015

    My husband has been emotionally abusive for a period of 7 years. This was after the first 3 years of our relationship being wonderful. We very nearly ended the marriage, but we decided we would give it one last go. He took early retirement (an intention to lower his stress levels). We also moved to another town. When we moved although we got off to a shaky start, 9 months on we were best friends and things were back on track. Through out the 7 years of hell. I became very depressed and developed fibromyalgia. I just didn’t know who I was anymore or what I wanted out of life. Despite not being able to work due to my illness. I tried and still do to carry my weight in the relationship. I clean, l wash, I look after my husbands every need. No matter how much pain I’m in. 2 days ago at his suggestion I booked a spa day away with my oldest daughter. Later that day I asked him if he’d be ok while I was away (I felt guilty going away to have fun, while leaving him at home. His response completely floored me. He said ‘ No I don’t mind at all. It’ll be some good girly time for the two of you. Anyway, you’re not going to like this but I’ll say it anyway. It will be respite for me’. I felt so hurt. He knows how much I struggle to to make sure he has everything the way it should be, how I refuse to let my illness impact on him. Then he says he looks forward to respite from me. I’m so deeply hurt. Since then he has said he didn’t mean it, that he just used the wrong words. What he meant was that he wouldn’t have to worry about me. I feel so upset and can hardly look at him. I really thought we were healing our marriage. Now I feel like we’re back to where we started. Where he is mean to me for no reason. Nora I would really appreciate your take on this. I feel like just applying for divorce and not living with a man that I cannot trust, not to hurt me again.

  3. admin, 05 January, 2015

    DEAR MEL,
    we have offered a lot of ideas about how to reinforce your self-esteem and confront the person treating you with contempt. At this point, you sound demoralized and still immobilized by the surprise. Perhaps I could suggest you to read some of our books, and learn how to develop a stronger elf-esteem.
    The only point that I want now to make sure you learn, is that this person is doing contempt not because you deserve it, but because some aspect in the relationship is making him react as if you are his/her primordial enemy from childhood….It is contradicting the purpose of being in a relationship and sabotaging precisely what is more vital now for him/her. Perhaps you could put together some historical issues that would explain why this person is scared of being intimate with someone and is reacting with this defense? Please, keep reading and writing to us, we can help you if you want so.

  4. admin, 05 January, 2015

    Dear Lorna,
    Let me be clear…you have managed to repair the relationship, you even get this husband to help through your sickness, and even he sends you to a spa? those are very good news.
    I would suggest that you try to calm yourself, learn to appreciate the good aspects of the relationships; ignore or drop the comment that he did, perhaps it was a joke or an ironic comment that any one is allowed to say sometime….In short, relax; try to get to a point where you can feel more supported, relaxed and in control of your negative feelings.
    And perhaps, even when being in pain, you could think that he somehow appreciates what you do for him, without you having to feel like a victim?
    Life is what it is; you have a companion a bit clumsy, that saw his heroic effort to make you happy destroyed by his silly remark….and is still there with you.
    Say thanks, smile, do less when you feel like doing less and stop thinking about divorce.
    In your situation, you need to keep his help and reduce your stress.
    Perhaps forgiving your clumsy but dedicated husband and smiling more at him, and being appreciative of his suggestions would reduce your stress and who knows? perhaps you could feel better at the body and soul level?
    Sending you my best wishes, and please, ask for more good ideas as the spa….

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