“You can show affection in low-key subtle ways through quiet acts of tenderness: holding hands while watching TV or intertwining your feet while you read the Sunday paper together”- John Gottman, Ph.D.
Conflicts and disagreements are inevitable entities of romantic human relationships; however, it is not conflict itself that is the problem, but how we choose to deal with that conflict. John Gottman, Ph.D. is one of the most influential marriage and relationship psychologists of our time, having the ability to predict relationship success rates with over 90% accuracy by simply observing how couples interact with each other. With over 40 years of experience observing couples, he has identified the components of what makes a stable and successful relationship, as well as the interactive patterns that lead to divorce or the end of relationships. Gottman’s research and findings apply to all types couples, including gay and lesbian. Before reading on, keep in mind that the proceeding negative communication styles do not automatically predict that a relationship will end. Think about it as a way to become more aware of relationship dynamics if you are noticing that your relationship has these interaction styles.
Gottman has identified four types of negative communication styles that he refers to as the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse,” all of which could possibly lead to relationship discord. The four horsemen are criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling. Criticism happens when one partner attacks the intrinsic characteristics of the other partner. It is not the same as a complaint, which focuses on a specific behavior. Bringing disagreements into the open can be healthy for relationships; however, criticism is usually destructive. Criticism could be saying, “I can’t believe you forgot to go to the grocery store, of course you’d forget that” instead of saying “I’m upset that you didn’t go to the grocery store.” Contempt involves being outwardly insulting towards a partner. Contempt can take the form of eye rolling, cynicism, name-calling, mocking, and hostile humor. Conflict escalates as a result of contempt, because you’re giving a message of disgust towards the other person. When one partner is experiencing contempt being directed at them, they may act defensively, bringing about the third horsemen. Defensiveness often develops from heightened tension as a result of contempt, but making excuses or meeting one complaint with another does not help to improve conflict. Defensiveness is simply a way of placing blame on one partner by saying, “It’s not my fault, it’s yours.” Lastly, stonewalling occurs when one person is no longer responding to the other person. Stonewalling is refusing to respond to your partner in order to avoid feeling flooded by an emotionally charged situation. Any of these four horsemen can be a predictive factor of a relationship that will end; however, they are typically found grouped together. All couples engage in these behaviors from time-to-time, but it is when they become prominent in an interaction style that the odds of a relationship succeeding become slim.