Dr. John Gottman’s research identified four destructive behaviors for relationships. These behaviors predict instability and unhappiness in relationships. They were coined by the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: criticism, defense, contempt, and stone walls. We dive deep into the first riders.
The First Riders of the Apocalypse: Criticism
Criticism is the first because it is the first to come in first. Often when someone has a complaint to share with their partner, they do so by describing their partner and what they have done wrong, which is crucial. When criticism is used to raise a concern, it sets the tone for the whole discussion. In fact, Dr. Gottman found that the way a conversation is started determines the outcome of that conversation with 96% accuracy. That is, if you start a critical conversation, chances are that it will not end well and you will leave the conversation worse than before. However, if your conversation is in progress for the first three minutes, the conversation is likely to end well.
That’s why it’s so important to raise a concern gently without criticism. But before we get to the antidote, let’s talk more about the ways partners criticize each other. My experience is that many times people are not even aware that they are being critical. Therefore, the first step in eradicating criticism of your relationship is to identify it. Here are some ways in which criticism can appear on your relationship:
Most of the time, when someone is being critical, they will express concern with words of exaggeration, such as “always,” “never,” “constantly,” or “all the time.” People do this in an effort to express their point and communicate how frustrated or upset they feel. For example, you may return home and have dirty dishes on the counter for the third day in a row. So you say, “Never iron dishes! You’re always so lazy.” You’re trying to communicate how frustrated you feel because the dishes aren’t done again. However, what your partner is listening to is that something is wrong. This will usually make them think of examples that contradict your claim (such as the time they washed the dishes last week) and this is what they will share in their response. This, of course, will make you feel unheard of and even more frustrated.
“Why didn’t you make the dishes today?” “Why” questions are often overlooked as critical because they are not always asked critically. For example, you may be curious as to why the dishes are not made. However, your partner will most likely hear it when you say that something is wrong with not washing dishes. This is especially true if you and your partner are in a negative perspective. Therefore, it is usually best to stay away from questions about why.
Make a joke about your partner’s “flaws”
Joking with your partner about something you don’t like about him or want to be different may seem harmless or even playful, but it’s usually a passive-aggressive way of saying what you want without being direct. It’s rare for someone to make a joke about someone that doesn’t include at least a touch of truth. And even if you think there is no truth in your joke, your partner may hear it that way. Your partner will feel especially criticized (and probably a little embarrassed) if you make the ass of a joke in front of others.
Statements “should” be directed at oneself can lead to feelings of guilt, shame, and anxiety. Statements “should” be directed at other people, such as your partner, will make them feel judged and embarrassed. For example, saying, “You should have known I’d like the dishes done” or “You shouldn’t have loaded the dishwasher that way” implies that you know better and that there’s something wrong with them for not knowing.
Fix something your partner did “wrong”
It’s right. Criticism can also manifest itself in the form of nonverbal communication. For example, maybe you and your partner load the dishwasher differently and think your path is the best. So, after loading the dishwasher, you go in and “fix” what they did.
This will send the message that your partner did it wrong and that your path is the right one. The feeling of criticism will be aggravated if you are visibly upset or irritated while you are “fixing your wrongdoing”.
Shared worries from a place of anger and resentment
If you approach your partner with concern from a place of anger and resentment, he or she will listen to you critically, no matter how you express it. The reviews will be yours to. You have to do the de-escalation and tuning work you (your inner feelings and needs) before coming to your partner.
The antidote to criticism
Criticism predominates in relationships because it is a way of expressing our concerns without being vulnerable. It’s a form of advocacy, and relationships can’t be successful from a defensive standpoint. You have to be vulnerable in your relationship for it to work. To do this, change your perspective on what you don’t like externally (that is, your partner’s behavior) to what is happening internally (i.e. how you feel and what you need). If you do not do this job, your partner will not be able to listen to you and your needs will not be met.
For starters, it may be helpful to follow Gottman’s antidote to criticism: the Gentle Start-Up. The smooth start-up consists of the following three steps:
(1) I feel … (2) about what … (3) I need ….
Within every concern, there is a desire or need. If you can identify what this is, you can communicate it to your partner in a way that he or she can hear. This will give you the best opportunity to meet your needs.
So the next time you’re upset about something your partner did (or didn’t do), take a moment to de-escalate, tune in to your inner world, and identify your vulnerable feelings and needs. basic. Then find time to share them with your partner. When you come from this place of self-reflection, self-awareness and vulnerability, it will drastically change the communication patterns of your relationship and prepare you and your partner to succeed in the relationship.
Every rider has an antidote. Learn them all in the relationship coach: How to make your relationship work.
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