...continued from Cathy's original post: "Hey Hans, I'm recently married and fear that I'm relying too heavily on my husband for emotional support. I've always been sensitive and cared what others thought of me, perhaps more than I should, but I can feel it affecting my relationship."
Master Gottman trainer, Dr. Nancy Young
continues our conversation on the principles of a healthy relationship. She also speaks more specifically to Cathy's write-in from [part A].
Dr. John Gottman's seminal work studying over 3000 couples allowed him to predict which marriages would divorce with a 92+% accuracy. He isolated the four behaviors most deadly to a relationship and called them the Four Horsemen of the relationship apocalypse. Read on to tame these wild behaviors.
as it suggests, occurs when you feel assaulted. It results in one of two strategies. Either the partner will whine innocence as the victim or counter-attack with an alternative accusation, like, "Well, you didn't take out the trash last week!"
[Do this instead]:
Take some portion of the responsibility. "You're right, honey; I forgot to do that for you like I said I would." Demonstrate your willingness to learn, try and support your partner.
is when your cognition shuts down, the wall goes up, the eyes glaze over, and no more information is getting through. It's when your nervous system "floods" from an overstimulated stress response. Dr. John Gottman found that when a partner becomes so aroused (around 100 heartbeats per minute), cortisol and adrenaline levels make further conversation detrimental.
[Do this instead]
Time to take a break and self-soothe. Go for a walk, run, workout, or meditate; take a time out to calm down. You might need 30 minutes or more. It's important to check back in when you're calmed and clear on what you want to say. Set an appt with your partner (within a few hours ideally) - and keep it.
is as simple as describing your partner. Any "you" statement like "you never," "you're always," "you keep," "you are...." Whether you feel you're accurate is not the point. The point is that criticism grates at your partner, and it tears at your friendship.
[Do this instead]:
Be gentle. Use "I feel" statements. Insert an emotion word, a description of the situation (not your partner) and what you need as an action.
"I feel (uncared for) when (my needs aren't considered); what I need is (more communication) about what both of us need.
Don't wait for the next blow-up! Write out 4-6 responses now. Better yet, grab your partner to help you construct them for each other.
is the #1 relationship killer. It's an advanced stage of criticism that takes on a nasty, sarcastic, belligerent, or superior tone. It can be profane, eye-rolling, or doubtful disregard to a partner's intention, comment, or desire, and it can cause a fight in a second. In many ways, the contemptuous person has elevated the negativity because the criticism "didn't work."
[Do this instead]
Scale your arousal down using gentle start-ups. Use "I feel" statements just as in criticism. Understand that desires toward contempt are counterproductive to communication. Being sarcastic and mean is often easier than being honest and vulnerable, so it'll take practice to undo this habit in yourself.
Remember: So many of the skills to tame the horsemen relate to emotional regulation. But understanding your attack and defense mechanisms is the first step in tailoring your solutions. Of course, it will take practice because these are perishable skills. Building a healthier relationship is like building anything of value. It takes time, care, and occasionally a do-over. Keep practicing to tame these horses, so they don't trample your partner.
I hope that helps a little. Take the best of care. ~Hans
Hans is an ICF-certified executive coach at Inner Confidential, specializing in mental fitness and Gottman methodologies for healthy relationships, and a NASM CPT specializing in weight loss and behavior change at the SoFit Network.