There is actually science involved in achieving healthy couple relationships. When it comes to romantic love and lasting couple relationships, John Gottman, Ph.D., is a true pioneer. Not only is Gottman a professor at the University of Washington and a best-selling author, but also a true scientist of relationships. Since 1994 he has studied couples relationships, often in real-time. He tracks:
- blood pressure
- cyclical patterns
- the ‘whats’ and the ‘hows’ of their fights.
Astoundingly, he is able to predict with 90% accuracy which relationships will remain together and which relationships will break up. Curiously, the determining factors of breaking up have less to do with how often couples fight or the issues they fight about. It’s more to do with how they go about the fighting process.
Interestingly, Gottman identified 4 distinct behaviors that are relationship killers, regardless of the issue at hand. These four behaviors tend to demoralize and destroy which prevents couples from feeling safe or respected. Take a look at these four behaviors, as well as the possible antidotes, and see if there are places your relationship might improve and become a healthy couple relationship! If you identify areas in your partnership that could be improved we can help you get the healthy relationship that you want with marriage counseling.
4 Relationship Killers We See In Marriage Counseling
1. Criticism Within the Relationship
This often includes repetitive complaints, negative evaluations or judgments, blaming, nagging, using sarcasm in ways that demean, or speaking with emotional charge regarding a partner’s actions, character, or way of being. Criticism frequently begins with: “You always,” or “You never,” or “I am so darn tired of the way you…”
ANTIDOTE: Softened Start-Up – this incredible skill goes a long way in relationships. It means we say what is needed with kindness, respect, calmness, and “I” statements. This usually helps the other partner listen better and be more willing.
EXAMPLE: “Joe, do you have a quick minute? I appreciate you taking the time. I wanted to share something that was hard for me. When you were late, I got really worried and scared. Did you know that? It would mean so much to me if we both could be more timely.”
2. Contempt in Your Relationship
This is criticism bolstered by hostility or disgust. It includes insults, jabs, attacks, mocking, talking down to, rolling one’s eyes, name-calling, or belligerence. Contempt usually feels humiliating, demoralizing, mean, devious, or obliterating.
ANTIDOTE: Repairing The Conversation – this means making an effort to de-escalate negative feelings DURING difficult encounters. A repair might be a deep breath and slowing down. It might also include an apology, a smile, a request, or even a bit of humor. It can also help to remind yourself of your partner’s positive qualities and that they are trying also. Contempt usually covers over deeper hurts or needs. This makes it more unlikely they will be addressed in the relationship.
EXAMPLE: During a fight, one might say, “I am really angry right now that you are confronting me for being late. I need to take 20-30 minutes to calm down, so I can be constructive and helpful in this conversation. I can see you are really trying too. Can we give this a break for now?”
3. Defensiveness As A Couple
When one feels blamed, made wrong, or attacked, defensiveness includes counterattacks to maintain one’s innocence, level the playing field, or avoid taking responsibility. Defensiveness may take the form of pointing out what another did wrong, justifications, making cross-complaints or rationalizing why one’s actions were okay.
ANTIDOTE: Accepting Influence. Partners who are open to persuasion from each other generally have stronger relationships. This is the opposite of being rigid, domineering. ‘right,’ or stubborn. It is about accepting the other’s perceptions and blending them with one’s own, so there is give and take.
EXAMPLE: “I can see that being on time is really important to you and that my support would help. I will make an effort for timeliness to be more of a priority.”
4. Stonewalling in Your Marriage
When we rigidly withdraw or shut others out, offering no verbal or physical cues, often for lengthy periods of time. Stonewalling is often used to avoid conflict, convey disapproval, or create distance and separation in couple relationships.
ANTIDOTE: Turning Toward Your Partner – close couple relationships consist of a series of ‘emotional bids’ – essentially reaching for emotional connection through a comment, question, touch, or smile. When this occurs, we have 3 choices: we can turn away (withdraw/get silent), turn toward (lean in/listen) or fight against (argue/blame). Research shows that consistently being able to turn toward your partner strengthens relationships.
EXAMPLE: “Being late is really difficult for me to talk about but I can see that it is important. Would it work if we talk about it for 10-15 minutes? Then we can return to it over the weekend if needed. I don’t want to discard it but I also want to remain centered and not overwhelmed.”
Are You Ready to Start Marriage Counseling in San Diego?
Relationships of all kinds can be challenging and they take effort to sustain. But if you’re ready to create a more healthy relationship, we can help with marriage counseling in San Diego. At Family Connections Therapy we can help you explore new ways of being together, communicating clearly, and developing lasting relationships! To speak with a San Diego marriage counselor follow these simple steps.
- Book an appointment online or call our office today at (858) 776-8804.
- Meet with your new marriage and family therapist.
- Start building a healthy relationship
Other Therapy Services at Family Connections Therapy in San Diego, CA
Sometimes the issues may go beyond the relationship and individual therapy or family counseling is necessary as well. This is why Family Connections Therapy also offers anxiety treatment, depression treatment, children’s therapy, and more! Along with reunification therapy and high conflict parenting classes. Our services are also available through online therapy in California. To learn more about the services our marriage and family therapists offer, check out our services tab!