All relationships have conflict. It is inevitable, it happened before, and it will happen again. But most of us don’t realize that there are patterns to how we fight. To prevent the end of your relationship, you need to eliminate 4 toxic communication patterns, and replace them with healthy, positive and effective alternatives.
The Constructive Alternatives (A.K.A. ”Antidotes”)
1. The Antidote to Criticism : Use a Gentle Start-Up
Remember, criticism is verbally attacking the personality or character of the partner at the core.
Complain without blaming your partner. Use ‘’I’’ statements, talk about feelings and express a positive need.
Ex: ‘’It’s important to me that we get there on time.’’
2. The Antidote to Contempt: Build a Culture of Appreciation and Respect in Your Relationship
*Remember, contempt is attacking a sense of self with an intention to insult or psychologically abuse.
Remind yourself of your partner’s positive qualities and find gratitude for positive actions.
How: Regularly express appreciation, gratitude, affection and respect for your partner. Doing this regularly creates a positive perspective.
The more positive you feel = The less likely to feel or express contempt
*Tip: Don’t just say ‘’thank you’’, tell your partner what they did right.
Ex: ‘’I am impressed that you ____.’’ ‘’I like how you ____’.’ ‘’Thank you for _.’’
*Avoid: Sarcasm, cynicism, name-calling, eye-rolling, mockery, sneering and hostile humor.*
Ex: ‘’You forgot to do the dishes again? If you didn’t spend all day playing video games it’d be done already! You’re so lazy!(rolls eyes).’’It’s negative, destructive and defending.
Instead, use respect, understanding & appreciation.
Ex: ‘’I understand that you’re under a lot of stress, and it’s easy to lose track of time, but can you remember to wash the dishes when I cook for us? I’d really appreciate it.’’This request is respectful , it expresses understanding and ends with appreciation.
3. The Antidote to Defensiveness: Take Responsibility
*Remember, defensiveness is victimizing yourself to ward off a perceived attack, and reverse the blame.
Take responsibility, even if it’s a small part, acknowledge your role in the problem : accept your partner’s perspective and offer an apology for any wrongdoing. Think about: What is my goal? What’s the real problem underlying the conflict?
Ex: ‘’Oops, I forgot to call them. I should’ve asked you to do it because I knew today I’d be too busy at work and forget. I’m gonna call them right now and let them know we can’t make it tonight.’’
*Avoid: Blaming, attacking and negative non-verbal cues like tone, body language, facial expression, eyes-rolling, etc
Ex: ‘’It’s not my fault we’re always late, it’s your fault!”(eye rolling+ negative tone + turned away body)
Instead, take responsibility & express interest in your partner’s feelings. Accept your partner’s perspective & offer an apology for any wrongdoing.
Ex: ‘’I don’t like being late but you’re right, we don’t always have to leave so early. I’ll try to be more flexible.’’
4. The Antidote to Stonewalling: Physiological Self-Soothing
*Remember, Stonewalling is withdrawing to avoid conflict. Think about: A stone wall between the listener and the speaker.
Step 1: STOP THE CONFLICT & CALL A TIMEOUT FOR 20MINS ! (It takes at least twenty minutes for your body to physiologically calm down)
Step 2: Take 20mins to do something that helps you stop feeling flooded(like going for a walk, or read a book, and return to the conversation once you feel ready.)
Ex: ‘’I want to discuss this with you but I’m feeling overwhelmed and I need a timeout. Can you give 20mins to calm down, and then we can talk about it?’’
Ex: Make a ‘’T’’ with your hands to call a time out, or say ‘’I’m feeling flooded, can be take a break and come back to this conversation in 20mins?’’
Avoid: Shutting down, withdrawing, exploding at your partner, bottling up your emotions, thoughts of righteous indignation and innocent victimhood
Ex: “I don’t have to take this anymore!”
- Imagine a place that makes you feel safe
- Practice deep breathe (or/and meditation)
- Tense and relax parts of your body (Stretch, yoga, release your shoulders, etc)
- Do something soothing and distracting (dance, listen to music, go for a walk, read a book, etc…)
Learning how to communicate effectively will take time and focus.
Constructive communication is essential to avoid misunderstandings, understand each other’s perception and set the foundation to a happy, healthy relationship.
The next time you find yourself in a conflict, think about: Did you or your partner engage in any of the 4 horsemen behavior? Did you try to take a different approach? What went well? Which horsemen is the most difficult to eliminate, and what could you improve next time?
If you’re comfortable, you could invite your partner to participate in this reading and practice the constructive alternatives together. Be patient, it takes time and practice to eliminate old patterns.
Healthy Communication Takes Practice
All couples fight. If relationships don’t last it’s not because couples fight, or how much they fight, because truth is, fighting is healthy. Conflicts and disagreement are inevitable, and it can be healthy when managed properly.
Now that you know which patterns to eliminate and their constructive alternatives, make an active effort in your next conflict to steer clear of the 4 horsemen. If you or your partner slip up, don’t panic. Just like any new skills, it will take consistent dedication and practice before it comes off naturally.
The more you try to incorporate the antidotes into your daily interactions, the closer you are to your happily ever after. To learn more about the horsemen, click HERE
Mastering the Art of Arguing: 4 Communication Mistakes That Hurt Your Relationship + How To Fix Them
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*Notes from the author:
For some reason, the links of my sources aren’t showing in my text( the links are added as a url on certains wordsbut unless you know which word to click on, it’s useless. I try to make it more obvious by making the words bold, italic, color etc but it’s still not showing….oh well!)
I’m going to add them below while I (try to) fix it! 🙂
- Lifestyle website YourTango.com (Communication Survey)https://www.yourtango.com/experts/rochelle-bilow/want-your-marriage-last (Communication problem cited as the most common factor that leads to divorce, 65%, followed by inability to resolve conflict, 43%)
- Huffington Post ”Poor Communication is the #1 Reason Couples Split Up: Survey” (Source of the Tango Poll) https://www.huffpost.com/entry/divorce-causes-_n_4304466#:~:text=Lifestyle%20website%20YourTango.com%20polled,resolve%20conflict%20(43%20percent).
- The Antidotes- The Gottman Institute https://www.gottman.com/blog/the-four-horsemen-the-antidotes/ Here you can learn more in details about the 4 antidotes to the horsemen. Gottman Institute was my main source for this blog post (and part 1.)
- The 4 Horsemen-The Gottman Institute https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1o30Ps-_8is This is a 2 mins video “cartoon-ish” that explains the 4 Horsemen and the Antidotes visually. Fun way to learn about communication in relationship !
- Making Marriage Work- The Gottman Institute: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AKTyPgwfPgg (If you had only 1 video to watch about relationship, this would be itIt’s a bit long, but I promise you, it’s worth your time. Even better if you watch it together! Dr John Gottman Ph.D. talks about the horsemen , antidotes, the 5:1 ratio, and other techniques that’ve helped thousand of couples (among all types of couples, straight, gays, lesbians etc and across all phases of life) build and maintain a strong, healthy relationship.