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Are you doing these 4 things that hurt your relationships?

Most people starting couples therapy come in focused on their partners’ flaws. Few people come into my office and say, “We’re here because I complain too often, I yell all the time and don’t help out around the house.” It’s understandable that when you’ve been repeatedly hurt by your partner, you would be defensive and see the need for change in them. Nevertheless, the only changes you can make happen are changes in the way you show up in the relationship during the good times and the bad. You take control of your relationships by learning to change yourself first.

4 Relationship Patterns to Look Out For

Renowned couples therapists, Drs. John and Julie Gottman have identified four communication patterns that are detrimental to relationships and often result in divorce. These are called the Four Horsemen:

 1. Criticism – a verbal attack often disguised as a critique or complaint

 2. Contempt – behaviors aimed at making your partner feel worthless, such as sarcasm, name-calling, insulting, mocking

 3. Defensiveness – making excuses usually in response to feeling accused or blamed 

4. Stonewalling/Withdrawing – physical or emotional avoidance, distance, separation

4 Ways to Mend Communication Mistakes

 Thankfully, the Gottmans have identified specific antidotes for each of the Four Horsemen. Once you take the first step in identifying your own unhealthy communication patterns, you can replace them with the following antidotes: 

1. Antidote for Criticism: Gentle Start-up.

Be cognizant of how you’re feeling and avoid voicing complaints when you’re tired or already frustrated or angry. Talk about what you’re feeling and make specific requests for what you need.

2. Antidote for Contempt: Build Appreciation 

Remind yourself and your partner of the reasons you love and appreciate them by verbalizing it on a regular basis. 

3. Antidote for Defensiveness: Take Responsibility 

Recognize the validity of your partner’s perspective and offer an apology when needed 

4. Antidote for Stonewalling/Withdrawal: Self-Soothe and Rejoin 

Take a time out to recognize any overwhelming emotions. Self-soothe and practice self-care but then return to the conversation when you’re ready.

How Healthy Are Your Communication Habits? 

Next time you find yourself consumed in an argument or a difficult conversation with your partner, take a step back and consider which of the four horsemen are showing up in your own behavior and make some changes. It can be easy to focus on your partner’s hurtful behaviors but it’s important not to lose sight of the bigger picture: this is a relationship you’ve created together and if you want to make positive changes, you’ll have to do that together, too. Think before you react, and remember that you’re talking to someone you love.

-By Guest Writer Ashley Giles, LCSW                                                                                                                              
If you are struggling and would like help, we have Houston, Texas Counselors who can meet with you. You can contact us 713 -591- 3612 or by email at Nancy @ wilsoncounseling. org. This blog is not intended to substitute for professional counseling. 


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