How you communicate with your partner is critical. We all have a core need to feel safe, important and secure. However, if attempts to communicate have become hijacked by reactive behaviors such as blame, criticism, emotional withdrawal and avoidance you have likely created a negative cycle or “dance” of communication with your partner that will keep you feeling stuck. When communication breaks down and replaced by patterns of pursuing-and-withdrawing or blaming-and-defending (common dances that couples create) feelings of insecurity, anger and distress become magnified.
With the use of Emotion Focused Couples Therapy we first attempt to identify the negative pattern of communication that you and your partner engage in during conflict. Once diffused, partners can then find new ways of expressing their concerns constructively and thereby learn to ask for what they need. All the while, building a deeper connection of belonging along the way.
In addition to how couples dance during conflict, John Gottman of The Gottman Institute has identified four destructive styles of communication that he’s been able to predict will end relationships. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (a metaphor depicting the end of times) includes negative behaviors of Contempt, Criticism, Defensiveness and Stonewalling.
Criticism is generally used in an attempt to voice our concerns or complaints. When criticism becomes a default style of communication for a partner it’s often the result of many failed attempts to feel heard and acknowledged. Defensiveness is often observed at the receiving end of a critical partner. Whether the result of feeling unjustly accused or used to make excuses, a defensive position keeps us stuck and feeling helpless. Ultimately, we end up abdicating accountability for changing the direction of communication with our partner.
Contempt is a not-so-nice form of communication and used in an attempt to bring hurt or humiliation to a partner. When we communicate in this way we are deliberately pushing our partner away rather than talk about the pain or disappointment we are experiencing. Stonewalling is used in an attempt to control communication by shutting down and refusing to communicate. Sometimes seen in response to contempt, it may create a false sense of safety or act to punish our partner, but ultimately it serves no positive purpose in the end.