According to the principles of the Gottman Method, 4 primary communication patterns can signal trouble in a relationship. They’re sometimes referred to as the “Four Horsemen” and are as follows:
If one person in a relationship is feeling attacked and unfairly accused of something. It’s natural for them to want to defend themselves until their partner backs down. However, this defensiveness can go too far.
What happens when defensiveness involves making so many excuses that the person avoids taking any responsibility or trying to understand their partner’s point of view?
It can create a barrier and leave problems unresolved. This, in turn, can cause conflict to escalate and relationship problems to get worse.
In the context of relationships and communication, criticism involves one partner attacking the other’s character or personality. A partner might do this rather than addressing specific behaviors that they want to change.
When they receive this criticism, the other partner will likely feel rejected or hurt. They may also get defensive as a result, which typically prevents both partners from getting to experience the kind of changes and positive dialogue they’re hoping for.
Stonewalling is a version of the “silent treatment” and is one of the most damaging communication patterns a couple can engage in. It occurs when one partner feels emotionally overwhelmed, to the point that they withdraw from interaction, shut down, and stop responding altogether.
It’s important to note that there’s a difference between stonewalling and taking a break to calm down. When one partner stonewalls the other, they often don’t explain why they’re leaving or when they intend to return. They leave the problem unsolved indefinitely and simply extricate themselves from the situation.
Contempt involves showing blatant disrespect for a partner. It’s passive-aggressive and often occurs when one partner feels a sense of moral superiority over the other.
If a person has a lot of contempt for their partner, they may be sarcastic, call names, or mock them. All of this, in turn, can cause that person to feel worthless, unloved, and unmotivated to work on the relationship.