Here are answers to questions that couples seeking to improve their relationship might ask.
Q: What are key reasons that romantic relationships fail?
A: There are many theories on why relationships become problematic and sometimes end. For the legions of people who do separate or divorce from their partners, it probably is not one factor but rather a pattern of behaviors towards each other that lead them to relationship troubles and break ups.
Let’s take a look at a study from John Gottman, an eminent psychologist researcher interested in the elements of stability in relationships and interactive patterns that cause couples to divorce.
Gottman’s research pointed to four factors being predictive of a breakup of a couple—he called those factors “the four horsemen of the apocalypse.” The four horsemen are:
- Criticism (of the partner’s personality)
- Stonewalling (refusing to interact)
Click here for a detailed description of the four horsemen.
If you want to learn more about Gottman’s research findings, click here.
Essentially, the four horsemen are communication styles. Their presence in a relationship can create ongoing havoc and be catalysts for the relationship’s demise. It is not hard to imagine that ongoing exposure in a relationship to criticism, defensiveness, stonewalling and contempt could shut down partner’s care of one another.
Source: This Q/A was drawn from the Gottman Institute’s website, mainly articles and blogs written by Ellie Lisitsa.
Q: What can couples do if negative communication styles plague their relationship?
A: In the Q/A above, John Gottman’s concept of the “four horsemen” was introduced. The horsemen are factors that his research found predicted divorce for a couple. Yet, it is vital to understand that couples are not doomed if one or more of these horsemen are present in their relationship.
For each horseman (a negative communication style), Dr. John and Julie Gottman offer alternative communication styles (antidotes) that couples can practice that actually can counter the damage done to the relationship by the presence of the horsemen. See below.
ANTIDOTE: Complain without blame. Avoid saying “you” and instead talk about your feelings using “I” statements and express what you need in a positive way.
ANTIDOTE: Accept responsibility for the problem, even if only for part of the conflict
ANTIDOTE: Practice physiological self-soothing. The first step is to stop the conflict discussion and call a timeout.
ANTIDOTE: Build a culture of appreciation and respect in your relationship
The antidotes to the four horsemen are tools that couples can use to manage conflict in a healthy way. As soon as couples notice one of these negative communication styles in their relationship, they can employ the antidote. The less horsemen in the relationship, the better!
Couples therapy offers an opportunity for partners to talk about the troubles in their relationship with a counselor and to work together towards repairing it. When partners—with a counselor’s guidance—are able to identify the communication styles present in their relationship conflicts, it can be a first step to eliminating the problems (often the horsemen) and replacing them with healthy, productive communication patterns (often the antidotes).
Source: This Q/A was drawn from the Gottman Institute’s article, The Four Horsemen: The Antidotes. You can go to this webpage for more details.
Q: What are elements of a healthy couples relationship?
A: There are lots of ways to conceptualize the elements of healthy relationships. As a Gottman certified therapist, one description that I have utilized with couples is the “Sound Relationship House” theory developed by Drs. John and Julie Gottman. The theory compares a foundationally secure couples partnership to a house. Here is an overview of the elements of their Sound Relationship House.
Element 1. Build Love Maps
A healthy relationship begins with a foundation of knowing each other (e.g., each partner’s inner psychological world, history, joys, hopes, worries, stresses, etc.).
Element 2. Share Fondness and Admiration
This level of relationship building focuses on the affection and respect within a relationship. To strengthen fondness and admiration, partners can express appreciation and respect.
Element 3. Turn Towards Instead of Away
This level of relationship building calls for partners to state their needs, be aware of bids for connection and respond to them.
Element 4. The Positive Perspective
Relationships can thrive in the presence of a positive approach to problem-solving and the success of repair attempts.
Element 5. Manage Conflict
Relationship conflict is natural and has functional, positive aspects. So, partners in healthy relationships strive to manage conflict.
Element 6. Make Life Dreams Come True
Partners in healthy relationships can create an atmosphere that encourages both to talk honestly about their hopes, values, convictions, and aspirations.
Element 7. Create Shared Meaning
A healthy relationship is built on understanding important visions, narratives, myths, and metaphors about your relationship.
Element 8. Trust
This is the state in which partners have each other’s backs and are there for each other.
Element 9. Commitment
This is the state of mind for each partner that this relationship is a lifelong journey. It implies that each partner cherishes the other’s positive qualities and nurtures gratitude towards them.
In couples therapy, couples can work towards strengthening these foundational “floors and walls” of their relationship.
Sources: This Q/A was drawn from The Gottman Method – About | The Gottman Institute and What is The Sound Relationship House. Go to these webpages for more details.
The Gottman Method is one approach to couples therapy. The method’s goals are to disarm conflicting verbal communication; increase intimacy, respect, and affection; remove barriers that create a feeling of stagnancy; and create a heightened sense of empathy and understanding within the context of the relationship.
Patrick R. Connelly, LCSW is trained and certified in the Gottman Method of couples therapy. Since 2009, he has been successfully utilizing the Gottman Method—together with other therapeutic methods—with couples that he sees in his counseling practice. Click here for more on Patrick’s counseling approach with couples. Patrick is also on his way to become a presenter for the Gottman Institute’s Weekend Workshops for Couples.
Contact Patrick at 609-780-3570 if are dealing with relationship issues and are interested in scheduling counseling sessions for you and your partner.