Improve Your Relationship in 4 Steps

22 Feb
improve your marriage marriage counseling in Wilmington, NC

Improve Your Relationship in 4 Steps

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

The Gottman Institute has decades of research that they’ve done with couples and they’ve observed thousands of couple’s communication patterns.  They observed the way that they speak together to know what works and what doesn’t work.  The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are the four ineffective communication patterns that the Gottman’s have come up with where they can  predict with 90% accuracy whether or not a relationship will stay together.   These are pretty important.  There are four main communication patterns that are not effective:
  1. criticism
  2. defensiveness
  3. contempt
  4. stonewalling.
  If you find that you and your partner do exhibit these this is not the end-all be-all.  There are ways to actually help with your relationship.

Combating Criticism

Let’s start with the first the first one, criticism.  The best thing to do with criticism is when you have a conflict with your partner try to talk about feelings using “I statements.”  Make sure that you use “I statements.”  This helps you keep the focus on your own needs and on your own ones instead of blaming your partner or engaging in emotional mudslinging.

Overcoming Defensiveness

Defensiveness never solves a problem.  It’s really kind of an underhanded way of blaming the other partner and exhibiting superiority. The best way to get over defensiveness as a couple is to take responsibility for your role in the conflict.  I’m not saying 100% but a lot of times both partners have a role in a conflict.  That’s what you need to take responsibility for.

Getting Over Contempt

Contempt it will come out in the form of sarcasm, eye rolling, cynicism, and name-calling.  Whenever you’ve got that going on you, have contempt in your relationship and you need to work on it.  The way that you get over contempt is actually treating one another with respect and appreciation.  Sometimes we get into the habit with our partners where we don’t actually respect them. We would treat a stranger better than we treat our spouses or our partners.  That’s not fair to that person and that’s not fair to us.  Express appreciation even if it’s for the smallest things. “Thank you so much for doing the dishes, hey I really appreciate that you called me on your lunch break that meant a lot to me.”  Appreciating your partner and treating them with respect is a way to be able to help deal with the contempt in your relationship.


Stonewalling is when you and your partner just completely shut down.  You turn away from one another and you think “what’s the point in talking to my partner they’re not gonna listen to me anyway.”  Stonewalling comes after these three horsemen, criticism, defensiveness, and contempt, have happened for a while.  You and your partner have built up poor communication patterns.  If you are at stonewalling with your partner during a conflict you have a lot of ineffective patterns that you guys have started to have regularly.  The best way to work on getting over stonewalling is whenever you’re in a conflict and you find yourself getting upset or physically activated,take a timeout.

Take a 20 minute break

Take a break for 20 minutes and let your partner know you are taking a break for 20 minutes.  Come back and continue the conversation after those 20 minutes are done.  When in a conflict with our partners you may become very activated- meaning your heart races, sweaty palms, voices yelling.  We’re not going to effectively get through a conversation with our partners at that time it’s better just to take a break step back.  Calm down, relax and then talk it over with your partner.  No one ever had a great conversation or got through anything really really difficult by saying, “you know when we were yelling and we we’re really really upset we come up with great ideas!” Couples that stay together are the one you can get through difficult conversations with calm tones and being able to help each other get through that with respect , appreciation, and speaking about their own feelings.
Try these steps to help the communication in your relationship.  For some of you this may be enough, for some of you it may not be.  Years of ineffective communication can cause each partner to struggle to change those patterns. We’d be happy to help you get back on the right track and be able to communicate with your best friend again.  Get started now.

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