The Way Couples Fight Determines Marital Bliss or Disolution

Couple sitting apart on bench and remembering their love storyWhat do your fights say about your future?

One of the most interesting research findings in regard to successful marriages versus unsuccessful marriages relates to conflict.
Research by Dr. John Gottman and his wife Dr. Julie Gottman discovered that it is not the frequency with which a couple fights that indicates the success of the marriage, but it is the way a couple deals with and manages their conflict that determines the survival of their marriage.

How a couple fights forecasts their marital bliss or distress...and since every couple experiences conflict, we might as well learn the most effective strategies for dealing with conflict.

Some conflicts are resolvable. Other conflicts are perpetual
Dr. Gottman’s research finds that about 2/3 of what couples argue about are issues that may never be resolved. He calls them perpetual problems. All couples have perpetual problems. And year after year, couples tend to argue about the same issues.

What distinguishes the happy couples from the doomed couples?
Their style and attitude of fighting- even when facing perpetual problems.

Below are 4 communication styles that undermine relationships. Dr. Gottman refers to them as The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.
(Unfortunately most of us automatically respond to conflict with several of these styles- even those of us who know better:) It is very helpful to recognize these styles in order to work towards eliminating them.

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse
These 4 response patterns are high indicators of divorce, particularly when they become the primary style in which we communicate.

As you read them, think about the ways in which you tend to use them and which ones you use. Next,  see if you can begin to catch yourself as you slip into this trap.

A look for contempt, disgust1) Criticism Judging or putting down a person’s character, rather than expressing a complaint about a behavior or a situation.
Ex: “I can’t believe you left the dishes in the sink again. You are so selfish!” (character attack)

2) Contempt An expression of disgust- often coupled with a sigh of annoyance, eye rolling or a sneer.
EX: “How could you possibly have thought that was a good idea? Are you insane? Even a child would have more sense than that!”

3) Defensiveness Blaming the other person to explain/justify your behavior
EX: “That’s right, I didn’t take the garbage out. No one could take the garbage out unless they had a forklift, you filled it so high”

This is the look of disgust and contempt

This is the look of disgust and contempt

4) Stonewalling Tuning out/disengaging from the discussion.
EX: Staring at the computer or television without responding when your spouse/partner/significant other is talking to you. Or leaving the room in the middle of a discussion/argument without an explanation (or a respectful explanation) and a designated time to return to discuss the problem. Or not responding at all- cold shoulder.

By the way, it is important to understand the relationship between flooding and stonewalling so we can put it in perspective. This is not meant to be used as a free pass to use this behavior or to excuse it, but when we understand what flooding is and how it arises, we are better equipped to recognize it and find ways to avoid it, move around it or dissolve it.

Criticism and blame lead to emotional overload (flooding) which leads to stonewalling

Criticism and blame lead to emotional overload (flooding) which leads to stonewalling

Flooding When we are feeling overloaded, or beaten down our heart rate increases, our blood pressure rises and we shut down.  We disengage- sort of like fleeing the danger situation-bc we feel paralyzed. Flooding is the feeling beneath the stonewalling behavior. Generally it is the male who responds in this way. But not because they are intentionally trying to be difficult but because physiologically their stress response is so elevated that they go into the survival mechanism of escape.

Laura Temin is a Licensed Marriage therapist/Relationship Therapist/Couples Coach and Counselor. Laura has completed Level 2 of Gottman Method Training and will complete Level 3 in October. Laura uses Gottman Method principles in her work with couples along with other research based strategies that can help you build the kind of marriage or relationship that you deserve.

For more information or for a complimentary 20 minute phone consult, call today. 770.998-3881.

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