How to Destroy a Relationship – With Four Simple Behaviors

Gender Communication

As a motivational speaker I focus a lot on how to create healthy, strong, mutually satisfying relationships. And one of my most favorite sources of information is the work of Dr. John Gottman. Since the 1980’s, John Gottman, a psychologist at the University of Washington has brought together over 3,000 couples to study their interactions and, based on how they communicate with each other, determine whether or not they will still be married fifteen years later. His accuracy rate, if he watches them interact for one hour, is a whopping 95%!

He has found that his information comes by focusing on the presence of what he calls the Four Horsemen: defensiveness, stonewalling, criticism, and contempt. And the most important one in determining if the marriage is in trouble – is contempt.

Could you unwittingly be engaging in any of those behaviors? It can happen. I think that I have one of the healthiest relationships in the world, but if I am reeeeally honest, I admit that defensive can creep into my interactions. I’m getting better, but I have to be ever-vigilant.

Here’s a plan: Tell your mate that because you value your relationship with him (a man for purposes of this example) you want to make CERTAIN that you don’t unintentionally do anything to jeopardize it. Tell him about Dr. Gottman’s work and then ask him if you are ever guilty of any of those four behaviors.

Now, more than likely, you have never asked this before. And it’s quite possible he could think, “Uh oh. This is a trap. The right answer MUST be ‘No, never!’” Accordingly, if that is his response, do NOT drop it there. Persist by saying, “Honey, I know I probably don’t do any of these to any large degree, but is there one I ever do just a little?

If he still says “Oh no. You’re perfect,” gently persist. “But, if there WAS one, what would it be?”

You might then get a response like, “Well, you hardly EVER do it. And it’s not even worth mentioning, but sometimes, I can’t even remember when – I think you might have a tendency to…um…criticize me…”

THIS IS THE MAKE-OR-BREAK-MOMENT!! RESIST the temptation to say, “What! Are you crazy? I don’t ever do that!! Name a time – name ONE time!!!”

If you respond like that, he will more than likely clam up and your purpose will be totally defeated. The bottom line is – how can you ever correct a problem that you won’t acknowledge and discuss?

Then, once it’s up on the table you can tell him how much you appreciate him letting you know and that you will consciously work on correcting it.

DANGER! DANGER WILL ROBINSON!  This is graduate level stuff!  It is NOT easy to hear someone tell you that you are engaging in less than attractive behaviors.  But just like that slogan button that I am so fond of quoting reads:

“The Truth Will Set You Free… But First It Will Piss You Off.”

Ain’t it the truth…

Linda Larsen,  Humorous Motivational Speaker
Helping people bring their finest, best & happiest self to life!

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A Smiling Linda Larsen

About Author Linda Larsen, CSP, CPAE

I became a professional actress and – for actual money – I got to occasionally escape to magical worlds created by everyone from Shakespeare to Moliere; from Shaw to Simon. I became a member of Actor’s Equity Association and the Screen Actors Guild and, as such, joined the ranks of hundreds of thousands of mostly unemployed starving actors. But I didn’t care! I was an actor!!! I had an actual Master of Fine Arts Degree that PROVED, by gosh, that I was supposed to know what I was doing.

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