“It takes two to speak the truth–one to speak and another to hear.”
– Henry David Thoreau
It isn’t about the position of the toilet seat or who takes out the garbage! It also isn’t always fighting about sex and money!
These are just underlying symptoms of a true lack of communication. 72% of therapists list communication problems as the top reason couples seek therapy, followed by a lack of emotional intimacy. The feeling that the spark is gone was third and infidelity came in fourth.
In my work, both parties are taught how to communicate more safely and effectively during therapy through in office practice and coaching. Couples can learn how to handle the inevitable triggers that occur and hopefully how to channel the intense pain to join together in creating a more lasting, fulfilling, loving relationship for both partners.
The Four Horsemen
Some of the techniques I use are based on the works of The Gottman Institute (www.gottman.com), especially his theory of the Four Horsemen that can put a noose around any relationship. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse is a metaphor depicting the end of times in the New Testament. They describe conquest, war, hunger, and death respectively.
Dr. Gottman uses this metaphor to describe communication styles that can predict the end of a relationship.
- The first horseman of the apocalypse is CRITICISM. Criticizing your partner is different than offering a critique or voicing a complaint. The latter two are about specific issues, whereas the former is an ad hominem attack—an attack on your partner at the core. In effect, you are dismantling his or her whole being when you criticize.
- The second horseman is CONTEMPT. When we communicate in this state, we are truly mean, treating others with disrespect, mocking them with sarcasm, ridicule, name-calling, mimicking, and/or body language such as eye rolling. The target of contempt is made to feel despised and worthless.
- The third horseman is DEFENSIVENESS. We’ve all been defensive. This horseman is nearly omnipresent when relationships are on the rocks. When we feel accused unjustly, we fish for excuses so that our partner will back off. Unfortunately, this strategy is almost never successful. Our excuses just tell our partner that we don’t take them seriously, trying to get them to buy something that they don’t believe, that we are blowing them off.
- The fourth horseman is STONEWALLING. Stonewalling occurs when the listener withdraws from the interaction. In other words, this is when one person shuts down and closes himself/herself off from the other. It is a lack of responsiveness to your partner and the interaction between the two of you. Rather than confronting the issues (which tend to accumulate!) with our partner, we make evasive maneuvers such as tuning out, turning away, acting busy, or engaging in obsessive behaviors.