New address: 24 Farnsworth Street, Boston, MA 02210-1409.
John Gottman, Ph.D., has been researching male-female marriages for over thirty years and same-sex committed relationships for over twelve years. His research suggests that happy, healthy couples use a wide variety of communication styles when they are in conflict. Some happy couples fight with each other frequently, some happy couples do everything they can to avoid a fight, and other happy couples talk things through without ever showing signs of anger. Couples need to agree on a style of conflict management and use it well when conflicts arise. "I statements" can work well, as can other styles — as long as the couple finds a style that works for both partners. Challenges arise when one partner consistently wants to "get it all out on the table" and the other consistently wants to "sweep it all under the rug."
Gottman's research has concluded that it's not the presence of certain techniques of dialogue, but rather the absence of certain destructive behaviors, that helps relationships survive for the long term. These four destructive behaviors are defensiveness, stonewalling, criticism, and contempt. Gottman calls these the "Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse" because they can herald the end, or the decline, of a relationship.
Criticism is defined by Gottman as a global comment about your partner's personality or character. It is different from a complaint. A complaint might be, "You told me you understood the directions to Bill's house — I'm disappointed that we're lost." An example of a criticism in the same situation might be, "How could you have missed the name of the exit? You are such a poor listener!"
Contempt includes name-calling, eye-rolling, sneering, mockery, and hostile humor, as well as cynicism and sarcasm directed at one's partner. Messages of contempt are spoken from a position of superiority, which indicates a hierarchical relationship dynamic that is especially problematic.
Gottman defines defensiveness as "saying, in effect, 'The problem isn't me, it's you.'" Defensiveness often escalates conflicts, as partners bring up past hurts and grievances as a way of defending themselves against perceived criticism.
Stonewalling is a way of disengaging from a conflict. A partner who is stonewalling cuts off the kind of verbal and nonverbal communication that would express his/her emotions. She/he becomes unresponsive and uncommunicative.
For more information contact web @ uua.org.
This work is made possible by the generosity of individual donors and congregations.
Please consider making a donation today.
Last updated on Saturday, October 29, 2011.
Sidebar Content, Page Navigation
More Ways to Search
Donate to Support This Program and the Ongoing Work of the UUA
Read or subscribe to UUA.org Updates for the latest additions to our site.
Learn more about the Beliefs & Principles of Unitarian Universalism, or read our online magazine, UU World, for features on today's Unitarian Universalists. Visit an online UU church, or find a congregation near you.