Is the way you argue harming your relationships?
All couples fight, but not every couple knows how to do it in a healthy way. In the heat of an argument, it’s human nature to slip into familiar (and often ineffective) patterns of communication. If the way we fight is unhealthy, it can hurt the relationship and over time erode the safe connection we have and need with our partners.
Based on findings made by Dr John and Julie Gottman, there are four signs that the way you fight is hurting your partner, and hurting your chances at a healthy relationship. These are: criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling.
Collectively, these conflict styles are known as the Four Horsemen, and their ongoing presence in conflict is both common and devastating for the relationship. However, they don’t spell doom for your future if you work on work combating them.
As Dr. John Gottman says, “all relationships at one point or another, experience the four horsemen. In a good enough relationship, the goal is for the four horsemen to not appear regularly,and for couples to know how to de-escalate arguments when one of the four horsemen rears its head.”
Minimising the use of the four horsemen will allow
you and your partner to build an emotionally safe and secure attachment in your relationship. This is essential for any relationship to grow and deepen, and to allow the space for transparent, honest communication. Communicating openly in a way that makes us feel vulnerable can be hard, particularly if there’s a real fear of being rejected, criticised or unheard by our partners. It can be hard to put into words the very intense feelings we are experiencing or the deep desires we want our partners to meet; presence of the four horsemen is very likely to prevent us and our partners from doing so.
So while it can take a great deal of practice to learn how to communicate well with your partner, looking out for the four horseman and understanding what not to do in the midst of an argument is a very good place to start this process.
Learn ways to combat these dangerous conflict styles by working with a psychologist who is trained to work with couples. At Broulee Psychology, Chloe Haywood, Clinical Psychologist Registrar, works with couples who are struggling in their relationship.