One of the most significant aspects of marriage is healthy communication, and conversely, ineffective communication is one of the main problems experienced by dissatisfied couples. Since communication is a part of all of our relationships it is important that we learn to use it effectively.
John Gottman, a leading researcher on marriage, discovered four key elements that may predict marital divorce. “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” is the name given to the negative communication patterns he identified in his long-term research, which he used to predict the likelihood of divorce.
The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (Gottman, 1994):
- Criticism – saying things like, “You can never do anything right.”
- Defensiveness – saying things like, “That’s not true, I never do that!”
- Contempt – communicating disdain by rolling your eyes, etc.
- Stonewalling – distancing yourself from your partner by directly ignoring or emotionally shutting down from them.
Here are some practical tips to help you avoid these destroyers of effective communication:
1. First, communicate following these guidelines.
- State the issue; only report factual information (i.e “You told me you would call, but you didn’t.”)
- Talk about what you think about the issue (i.e.“You told me you would call, but you didn’t. It made me think that you might have been in a car accident.”)
- Then, talk about how it made you feel (i.e“…it made me feel sad because I wanted to spend time with you, as well as forgotten because you didn’t tell me.”)
- Lastly, talk about what you want (i.e.“I would appreciate it if you would call me if you are going to be late.”)
2. Always use “I” statements, such as, “I feel" instead of, “You are.”
When you state how you feel rather than criticizing someone for what they did, you decrease the chances that the other person will become defensive. They cannot argue with how you feel, but they can argue with the statements you made about them.
3. Schedule a talking time to talk.
If there is an important issue to be discussed, schedule a time to talk about the issue when both people have had time to process their thoughts and emotions. You do not always have to deal with an issue right away. Sometimes it is better to come back to a discussion with a fresh perspective.
4. Never fight when you are tired or angry.
If you are tired, you are more likely to be irritable, and if you are irritable, you are more likely to do or say unkind things.
5. Give your partner grace and assume the best.
He may have wanted to call, but forgot. It happens, we are all human; give grace. Always assume the best of your partner in every situation. Think “He must have been really busy and he forgot,” instead of, “He doesn’t love me!”
Even if you do this, realize that you may not always get what you want. Communication is not about getting what you want, but rather about being heard and understood.
7. Learn to listen.
- Pay attention to the person. No cell phones, look them in the eyes, sit down and remove any no distractions.
- Summarize what they said. “You were worried and upset when I didn’t call because you thought something bad could have happened to me.”
- Ask them if this is correct. If not, then listen again until you get it right.
- Empathize & Support. “I’m sorry that I worried you, that wasn’t my intention. I was so busy that I lost track of time. From now on, I will place a reminder on my phone to call you.”
8. Be affectionate.
End on a good note by giving a hug, kiss, or affirmative word such as, “I love you.”
9. Remember that how you start the conversation is how it will end.
If you start with a gentle approach, it will end that way. If you start with a loud, aggressive approach, it will end that way instead.
10. Accept your partner.
It's important to realize that some things may take a long time to change. Therefore, it's important to accept your partner as they are, not pressure them to try and change to meet your needs, but rather allow them space and time to grow.
Reference: Gottman, J.M. (2016). Marriage & Couples. Retrieved from https://www.gottman.com/about/research/couples/