Two Common Ways to Destroy a Relationship and the Antidotes
Disconnection in a relationship most often stems from issues in conflict management. However, resolving disconnection for the long haul is not just about resolving fighting and arguing. It’s about making sure you’re on the same page, turning towards each other and building a healthy relationship with your partner that contains shared meaning. The focus of this short post is on two forms of communication that will foster disconnection and how they can be changed.
There are many ways in which people can destroy their marriages without even realizing it. According to Gottman, the four most common and sure ways to destroy a marriage are through criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling. This short post will tell you how to identify two of these destructive behaviors and how to avoid them if you want to save your marriage from destruction.
The Two C’s
It is important to remember that criticism and contempt are the two most damaging forms of communication.
Criticism can be defined as an act or statement that attacks or finds fault with someone or something. Each time one is being critical, it is another way of saying the other is deficit in some way, even if that is not the intent. Contempt is defined as feeling above or communication that a person or their stance is beneath ones own. In marriage, criticism and contempt are often used to communicate disapproval, disappointment, anger, and frustration. While both C’s can be identified in communication, contempt is a form of communication often not realized as easily by the giver. Contempt is also one of the worse forms of communication as it breaks down the others view of self. I heard Gottman explain it once that contempt confirms to the other their unworthiness. That is damaging to a relationship and will often lead to coping moves such as shutting down.
The expression of contempt usually lies with insecure attachment and is the use of unhealthy coping. Considering this provides the solution to changing the dishing out of contempt to a more healthy form of communication. Creating this change is something one will want to enlist the help of a therapist for as it requires the contempt giver becoming more connected with internal emotions such as anxiety of aloneness. With greater awareness of internal processing, the contempt giver can learn to reach out in a healthy way and ask for reassurance.
Treating the root of criticism is similar to how one treats contempt. Underneath every criticism is a longing of sorts. Thus, the key to treating the root issue of criticism is for the giver of criticism to learn how to identify and then express the longing and the anxiety. Once again, to become more aware and learn how to change the communication usually requires the enlistment of a therapist. The reason for this is that we as humans become comfortable with a style of communication and have built up a neural pathway. When criticism feels natural, the limbic system is kicking in and what feels comfortable or normal will be reverted to as opposed to changing the communication to an expression of a longing. While it is not a root change, Gottman notes that a great way to change criticism is to use “I” statements instead of “You” statements.
When we use Criticism and Contempt as part of our communication in our marriage, we may be unintentionally increasing negative absorbing emotional effect (i.e. hurting our spouse's feelings) and confirming their attachment anxieties in the process. As their anxieties are confirmed by the continual use of unhealthy communication, this will lead them to greater insecure attachment. With greater insecure attachment, they will begin using coping strategies to contain the disconnection and interaction that will inevitably lead to more rigid interactions. Criticism and contempt are not healthy for any relationship and can lead to other types of destructive behavior like defensiveness and stonewalling, which will be addressed in a future post.