4 Red Flags in a relationship and how to change them

According to Gottman every relationship contains these 4 difficulties from time to time, but the more you can reduce them in your relationship, the stronger it will become.

1. CRITICISM:

While honest conversations  are important, criticism can be especially detrimental when it’s targeted at our partner’s character flaws.

Blaming a problem in a relationship on a personality flaw of the partner probably never inspires transformation, only resentment.

For example, saying “You’re so dramatic and never let me get a word in” probably won’t help your partner to change their behaviour. This is partly because it’s really difficult to change your character  I mean, where do you even begin to go about not being dramatic any more.

HOW CAN YOU CHANGE THIS?

Instead of criticising a character flaw, try to keep the ciriticism focused on the situation. Also, if you really want something to change, tell your partner exactly what it is about the situation that they need to change.  Be specific! This way they aren’t left in the dark, wondering how they can be less dramatic.

For example, you could say something like “I’m upset because I really want you to hear how I feel, please listen to all I have to say before you respond.” This is an easier pill for your partner to swallow, they aren’t being criticised directly, rather you are explaining a situation and telling them what you would like them to do.

2. CONTEMPT

This is often expressed through superiority, mockery, rolling your eyes etc.

We’ve all been at the dinner table when one person says to her partner “oh babes, nobody wants to hear that boring story again” or watching someone say “yes” with their words but “no, I don’t care” with their body language as they roll their eyes.

Interestingly, and very sadly, Gottman has found that contempt not only destroys relationships, but it’s correlated with a weakened immune system of the listener. By observing how many times a partner expressed contempt in a fifteen minute discussion, he was able to predict how many infectious illnesses the listening partner would get in the following 4 years.

HOW TO CHANGE THIS?

Understanding the effects (both mental and physical) of contempt on a partner may help to motivate a change in contemptuous behaviour.  You and your partner can agree to call one-another out whenever one of you slides back into old contemptuous patterns.

3. DEFENSIVENESS

Defensiveness is a natural response to feeling unjustly blamed/attacked.  We have a natural instinct for self-preservation which drives defensiveness.

There are two main types of defensiveness:

  • INNOCENT VICTIMHOOD: which is when people claim to be mistreated while they are entirely free of fault.  For example, you might say something like “I try so hard and it’s never enough for you.”
  • RIGHTEOUSLY INDIGNANT: which occurs when people counter-attack and throw criticism right back at their partner to avoid dealing with the initial complaint. For example, saying “well, at least I don’t …”

Not surprisingly, neither approach is good for conflict resolution.

HOW DO YOU CHANGE THIS?

In order to overcome defensiveness, partners need to accept responsibility. This means saying things like “Ok, fair enough” and “Good point, I never thought about it that way”.

This can be particularly difficult for someone with low self-esteem or self-loathing. Even though people who are more defensive may appear to be more conceited or arrogant, they probably have deep-rooted self-esteem difficulties.

You can understand this by viewing defensiveness as a shield to protect you, people with the biggest shields are the ones who feel the most vulnerable and afraid.

Such people might be afraid that by taking responsibility for their actions, they are giving their partner evidence of how worthless/ terrible they truly are. However, the opposite effect tends to be true, by taking responsibility, most partners feel heard and loved and respect one another even more.

4. STONEWALLING

This is when you shut down your verbal responses and turn your body away.

Generally when men stonewall they go silent, fold their arms and look down/away from their partners for an extended period of time.  When women stonewall on the other hand, they tend to maintain eye-contact, but their eyes glaze over and their body friezes.

Gottman found that when people are stonewalling, they may not look bothered or even interested in the conflict conversations, but actually their bodies are going through flight-or -fight symptoms. The blood flow is diverted  out of the brain’s rational problem solving centers and sent to the motoric centers. Their hearts race, their muscles tense, they may shake and feel unable to think clearly. Because they are on high alert, they tend to perceive everything their partner says as an attack towards them.

It’s not difficult to see why it’s unlikely for the conflict to be resolved when the person is in this state.

A person experiencing stonewalling may retreat or withdraw and not want to continue the conflict conversation. This isn’t necessarily to punish their partner, but by being aware of what they are going through internally, we can understand their withdraw as them calming themselves down.

WHAT CAN YOU DO TO CHANGE THIS?

The first step is to learn to identify when you or your partner are stonewalling. Then the best course of action is to take a short time-out. As the body relaxes, the fight-or-flight symptoms will reduce.  A cool-down of about thirty minutes can be really helpful for both of you.

It’s not always easy to take a timeout during a conflict discussion, and this is one of the areas where having a couple’s therapist is really beneficial as they can guide you through the process.

Like I said at the beginning, every relationship has these red flags to a certain extent. The main difference between happy and unhappy relationships is that partners in happy relationships don’t sweep these under the rug when they occur, they repair.

If you and your partner are needing to do some repair work on your relationship you can book an online therapy session with me  🖤

 

 

 

 

What does it mean to Stonewall?

Stonewalling is when your body shuts down your verbal responses, and you turn your body away. This usually occurs in a quarrel.

Interestingly, men and women don’t generally look the same when they stonewall.

Usually when men stonewall during a conflict, they go silent, fold their arms and look down/away for an extended period of time.

On the other hand, stonewalling may be a bit harder to notice in women. Women tend to maintain eye-contact, however their eyes glaze over and their body friezes.

Researchers such as Gottman, have found that partners who are experiencing stonewalling are also experiencing flight or fight symptoms. They are in distress, their hearts race, they may experience tunnel vision and they usually perceive the things their partner says as an attack against them.

Because of this, it’s quite unlikely that the conflict will be resolved well until the person experiencing stonewalling gets a chance to calm down. If you can identify stonewalling in yourself or in your partner during conflict, it’s a good idea to have a short break or cooldown.

I know this is a tall order during a heated conflict, but explaining to your partner that you both just need a short time out (no longer than 30 minutes) to collect your thoughts may become a significant pillar that holds your relationship up.

If you and your partner would like a bit of help figuring it all out and strengthening your relationship, you can book a couple’s therapy session today.

 

Betrayed Partners suffer from PTSD

The Psychologist, Shirley Glass found that betrayed partners almost always suffered from a form of PTSD.

In a similar way to how a soldier may feel after returning from war, betrayed partners are hyper-vigilant and on guard for enemies hiding behind every tree.

They may also experience flashbacks or intrusive negative thoughts in which they imagine their spouse together with the other person.

These thoughts often bring on bouts of rage, panic or numbness. They may also suffer from nightmares and insomnia.

No matter how many times their spouse apologizes, their intrusive thoughts are difficult to stop. They are at the mercy of their PTSD.

It is important to take your feelings seriously and not to expect yourself to just ‘get over it’. This is a difficult time and seeing a therapist might help you to make sense of what is going on.

 

“Every Marriage is a Mistake”

Minuchkin famously said that “Every marriage is a mistake it’s how you deal with it that matters”. Here’s what I think Minuchkin was getting at.

All couples will have perpetual unresolved problems. Yes some couples may have fewer of these than others, but no relationship, no matter how great, can ever be entirely free of these.

This is because, unlike the belief passed on to us through pretty much every soppy love song throughout time, there are no perfectly complimentary couples. No two puzzle pieces that fit together and complete one another.

Don’t worry, this is a good thing, I promise, because it means that you are already a whole human. You don’t need to find someone else to complete you, you are whole in and of yourself.

It also means that you and your partner will sometimes clash. Friction is inevitable, it’s how you deal with it that really counts.

So next time you and your partner find yourselves clashing over something, don’t spend energy getting angry with yourself for clashing, accept that this is a normal part of being in a relationship and devote your energy to dealing with the issue at hand.