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Four Key Factors For Healthy Relationships

John Gottman, a US Psychologist, has spent almost two decades studying the interaction of couples. He has found the key to healthy relationships is not how passionately a couple argue but the way they argue. He determined four key factors that make or break a relationship, what he called The Four Horseman of the Apocalypse:

Criticism over complaint: A criticism attacks the whole person and is not time limited or specific enough. Things like “You’re so lazy” is taken as an attack on the whole person which is particularly hurtful because it attacks their identity. For healthier relationships a better way to express unhappiness is for the complaint to be specific and relate it to how the behaviour made the person feel before then politely suggesting how the person can change their behaviour.

Expressions of contempt: Name calling, sarcasm, voice tonality and facial expressions can all be used to express contempt and therefore send the message that “I don’t care for or about you!” Reducing or eliminating this one form of behaviour, unsurprisingly, made big improvements to the couples Gottman saw.

Defensiveness: Flaring up and becoming very defensive makes it hard to discuss anything and tends to drive out intimacy. Having a defensive attitude in a relationship may manifest as jealousy, constant doubt that your partner really loves you, or an unwarranted feeling that your partner is constantly comparing you unfavourably to others. Again becoming aware of this means you can recognise if/when defensiveness becomes a regular part of your relationship so you can reduce it if necessary.

Withdrawl or “Stonewalling”:  Typically a male trait because mens’s minds are typically more able to shut off and compartmentalise reality. This is when you remove yourself from an emotionally fraught situation, which may feel easier than dealing with emotions but can easily corrode intimacy and lead to a more permanent breakdown in communication.

These four factors are critical for healthy relationships and to learn more there’s a great youtube video. Read more about how I work with couples and individuals to resolve and improve relationships or contact me for your free 20 minute consultation.


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