Communication plays a huge role in the quality of ones’ marriage. Research has shown that certain forms of communication are deadly enough to destroy just about any relationship.
Dr. John Gottman chronicles these fatal forms of communication in his book, Why Marriages Succeed or Fail … and How You Can Make Yours Last. I highly recommend this book for anyone who is committed to making their marriage last. Remember, what you don’t know can absolutely hurt you, and in this case, your ignorance could cost you your marriage. The four forms of communication you should stay away from are criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling. Dr. Gottman refers to them as the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.
According to Dr. Gottman, criticism is defined as speech that attacks someone’s personality or character, as opposed to a specific behavior. It is usually accompanied by blame. For instance, “this house is such a mess because you never remember to take the trash out. How stupid can you get?” While it is impossible to live and interact with someone and never have a disagreement, how you choose to voice that disagreement makes all the difference. It is actually very healthy for couples to share their complaints instead of bottling them all up. But, don’t confuse voicing a complaint with criticism.
Contempt is another deadly form of communication. It goes farther than criticism in that there is a deliberate intention to insult and psychologically abuse the other person through words or actions. As couples lose respect for each other, there is usually an increase in this form of communication. Imagine the impact of the following words from one couple to each other. “When will you finally stand up and be a man?” “You are nothing but a stupid piece of ….”
As communication becomes laced with more criticism and contempt, defensiveness, the third of horsemen, takes center stage. Defensiveness is a natural response to criticism and contempt. When we feel attacked, we have the tendency to defend ourselves. We deny responsibility, make excuses, counter with a complaint or criticism of our own, whine or just stick to our guns regardless of the truth in what the other person may have said.
Stonewalling occurs when we decide to ignore a person. How often have you seen one spouse completely tune the other out? How often does one spouse shut down when the other is trying to open up? It can be the most painful feeling to be in an intimate relationship and yet not be able to share my hopes, dreams and fears with that person.
Given the toxicity of these forms of communication, it really should not surprise us that couples who repeatedly communicate in this manner eventually choose to go their separate ways. Our most basic needs in any relationship are love and respect.
If you recognize these patterns of communication in your marriage, there are strategies you can use to make things better. First, calm down. Find alternative ways of quelling your negative emotions. Resist the need to lash out. Focus on what matters most, rebuilding your relationship or temporarily validating yourself by hitting back?
Secondly, practice speaking non-defensively. One of the most effective ways to do this, it to mirror back to your spouse what you heard them say. This allows your spouse to know that you are indeed listening to them.
The third strategy is to validate your mate. Try to see things from your spouse’s perspective. Consistently telling and showing your spouse that you understand and appreciate him or her is one of the most healing mechanisms you can use to heal and maintain your relationship.
The fourth strategy is to continue the first three strategies on a consistent basis. If your relationship has taken a beating due to your ineffective communication styles, it will take significant time, effort and consistency to restore it.
The great news is that the tools to do it and if you are committed there is a high likelihood of success. Focus on the priceless dividends you stand to gain by restoring and maintaining your marriage.
Aya Fubara Eneli is a best-selling author, Christian Life Coach, Inspirational Speaker and Attorney. Her life’s purpose is to empower and equip people to live up to their highest potential. She welcomes your questions and comments. For more information, visit www.ayaeneli.com, like her on facebook at www.facebook.com/ayaeneli , follow her on twitter @ayaeneli or e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.