Relationship problems are generally very varied to describe in general, but two large groups can be distinguished.
On the one hand, couples who, although they do not have discussions and conflicts, suffer from a great distance. On the other hand, there are couples who live in constant conflict, with great arguments and misunderstandings. The couples of this last group are the target of this article, those who will have to face the presence of the problems that we describe in the previous article: The 4 horsemen of the apocalypse of love in the couple.
In this article we propose the tools and the possible actions to be carried out when each of the runners appears to be able to resolve these difficulties and adopt a potentially successful attitude to deal with the crises that arise.
How to deal with the 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse as a couple
More than two decades ago, the Gottmans and their colleagues at the University of Washington discovered that in 90% of cases, it was possible to successfully predict whether a married couple would stay together or end up going their separate ways.. This discovery was of great importance as; if the factors that could lead to divorce were known, perhaps they could be avoided and the relationship saved.
The team learned to determine which interactions between the couple result in lasting happiness and which lead to emotional distancing and separation. But detecting problems is not the same as making them go away.
From a systemic point of view, it is understood that couples go through a series of crises depending on the stages of development they are in: Crisis of engagement, crisis of coexistence, crisis of the first child, crisis of the empty nest, etc.
Problems arise when the transition from one stage to another is not done properly and the couple cannot adapt to the new situation (Haley, 1973, 1976; Carter & McGoldrick, 1989). In many cases, unresolved crises overlap and conflicts are protracted. In addition, the coping style usually does not change, so the problems become chronic and the ball gets bigger.
With that in mind, let’s look at some tips for dealing well with each of the romantic apocalypse riders in the couple.
First rider: the reviews
As a reminder, a criticism is a global and lasting attitude that directly attacks the personality of the couple.
In general, showing their own feelings is positive for the relationship (we never know what the other is thinking or feeling unless they communicate it), but it must be done from a humble position in which the main goal is to resolve a fact and communicate how we feel to be respected out of respect.
Specific problems should always be described and not treated as a lasting and comprehensive situation so as not to fall into criticism. You have to pay attention to the tone. It should not be belligerent or sarcastic. They should not enter into personal judgments, nor into attacks on the personality of the other.
There are healthy complaints (division of responsibilities) and damaging complaints (accumulated complaints). There are healthy ways to respond to a complaint (ask questions to gain a better understanding) and harmful ways to respond to a complaint (defend).
If we observe behavior from our partner that we do not like, it should be communicatedBut always speaking of a specific fact, otherwise it is very easy to get into the criticism. For example: “Yesterday you forgot to take your clothes out of the washing machine and I had to take them off before going to work. Please take them off at night so that I have more time the next morning”. This attitude is very different from: “you are a selfish person because you value your time more than mine because I always have to do all the housework myself”.
When complaints are not presented as criticism of the person, we encourage our partner’s active listening attitude.. If they listen to us and, moreover, we feel we are being listened to; it is much more likely that our partner will make an effort not to perform this behavior that makes us feel bad and that we lower the level of negative feelings ourselves.
So no matter how angry we feel, everyday situations must be put into perspective think about whether the situation is important, and take stock of other things besides your partner if that may be causing them to replace tasks they are not doing. Making this balance fosters attitudes of gratitude and appreciation for what each contributes to the relationship.
The next step is to express it to the couple: “My love, thank you very much for turning on the washing machine at night and saving me from work in the morning.” This exercise is not effective when displays of affection are not real. You just have to be more discriminating about helping others. And if you think about it, you still have to say.
- Raise complaints without criticizing your partner’s self (nobody)
- Look for desire in the other’s complaints.
- Express and accept love.
Second horseman: contempt
contempt it was born from a poorly reinforced criticism of hostility and indignation. Attacks and counter-attacks generate insecurity in the couple, which prevents conversation and leads to distance.
Criticism turns out to be negative for the relationship, but contempt is one more step. Contempt generates much more pain and mistrust than criticism alone. It creates in the other the need to defend-counter-attack, which makes it difficult to stop a spiral of reproaches and insults.
There are formulas not to fall into contempt or to stop it when the model has already been created. Many times we focus on expressing what we don’t want to see in our partner’s behavior without her knowing very well what we expect from her. This leads the other person to find the answer in their own expectations or in their way of interpreting a situation without knowing exactly what you want.
We invite our partner to use the trial and error formula to determine what we need from them because they only know what we don’t want, but they don’t know what we want. If you use this formula unsuccessfully a few times you end up throwing in the towel and the distance happens. for that it is important to communicate what we want and expect from our partner.
Another tool in order not to fall into contempt is to respond to the needs expressed by the couple through open-ended questions. This way, we show interest in each other’s concerns and clarify exactly how our partner is feeling and what we need to do about it.. To do this, we must remember two rules:
- Don’t interrupt by expressing your own need. “This is how I feel when you insult me.”
- Don’t react defensively. “Ah! What do you want me not to shout? Give your example!”
The alternative to these behaviors is active listening and understanding the message of others. To do this, we rely on open questions:
- What can I do to make you feel better?
- I’m interested in what you think. Tell me more than what this means to you.
To finish, when we feel that the other has listened to us, we must express it. This makes it more likely that the other person will resume this listening attitude in the future.
- Say what I want instead of what I don’t want.
- Resist the urge to respond with counter-criticism.
- Respond to criticism with: What do you want?
- Express your gratitude for listening and responding.
- Take the time to cultivate positive thoughts and feelings towards each other.
Third rider: attitude defensive
When one or both parts of the couple feel hurt or insulted, they try at all costs to defend themselves without listening to the other’s demands.
How conversations are approached largely determines the quality of the relationship in general (John Gottman, 1994). There is a big difference between starting a conversation with an aggressive approach and starting a conversation with a gentle approach. The aggressive approach is accusation-based and causes the other person to focus more on the “forms” than the “substance”. The soft approach allows complaints to be expressed in a more neutral way.
It is very important to start the conversation smoothly so that it can move forward. The aggressive approach quickly becomes an obstacle that even allows 96% to predict that the outcome of the discussion will not be satisfactory.
- Aggressive approach: “I’m sick of always going out on Saturdays with your friends.”
- Soft approach: “I would love to spend more time alone. What about you and I going to dinner on Saturday? ”
Many people find it difficult to accept their partner’s ideas, suggestions, or requests because they believe that if they do, they will lose the power in the relationship. This attitude is also proving defensive. Studies show that this mostly happens to men; but they also show that they are wrong.
Men who let their partner influence them have more power in their relationship than men who don’t. This is believed to be due to the fact that the woman feels more respected and therefore is also willing to give more power to her partner. It means that they do not shy away from each other, but try to reach mutual agreements. Although paradoxical, sharing power with others gives power.
Expressing and accepting love largely dispels feelings of resentment. It is about performing a cognitive exercise of paying specific attention to what the couple is doing well or that we like and communicate. On another side, it is just as important to know how to listen to and accept the couple’s demonstrations of love without denying or ignoring them. To take in and believe those good things that our partner says about us is an exercise that, although it may seem basic, many people should do.
- Start conversations more easily.
- Open to the influence of others.
- Express more gratitude and love.
- Accept the other person’s compliments.
Fourth rider: the evasive attitude
The evasive attitude is characterized by indifference towards the relationship.
There are many reasons why a person can show an evasive attitude; but it almost always comes from a reinforcement because when one avoids the conflict (either by going elsewhere or by talking about something else), the same thing ends.
But the conflict only ends momentarily, because it has not been resolved. It is therefore very likely that he will reappear. When we maintain an evasive attitude over time, we don’t solve problems, we postpone them.
You need to stop avoiding conflicts and face them with the right skills. If we spend a lot of time in our lives with an evasive attitude, we may need to learn these alternative strategies.
When the style of the relationship is preventable, many conflicts become perpetual, which can create a gap in the relationship that is sure to widen. Perpetual problems refer to those fundamental differences in character or lifestyle preferences that continually generate conflict. The result is usually emotional distancing, the most serious conflict in the relationship. The goal is to be able to talk about disagreements regularly and to feel good about each other.
Another very useful cognitive tool is to realize that the personality that we believe our partner has is an image that we have created of ourselves based on our beliefs, expectations, information processing and our how to. A practical exercise is to try to judge our partner as a stranger would without emotional involvement..
Physical and emotional intimacy are closely linked. When one party feels a lack of emotional connection, they lose interest in sex, romance and passion (John Gotman, 1994). It is necessary to seek quality and pleasant moments to restore the emotional intimacy of the couple and that they can recover because of their physical intimacy. Dialogue on perpetual conflict by deepening feelings and focusing on accepting mutual differences also promotes emotional intimacy.
- Stop avoiding conflict.
- Seek dialogue in relation to perpetual problems. Don’t get stuck in it.
- Communicate your acceptance of the other’s personality.
- Set aside time to be alone together to restore emotional and physical intimacy.
these tools they are very useful if practiced within the couple when, although there is conflict, there is still no emotional distancing.
Relationship issues are complicated and difficult to resolve. In fact, it is one of the most sought after consultations among psychology professionals. If you are in a similar situation, it is advisable to go to a professional to assess the state of the relationship and can offer the most appropriate help for each couple. There are many practical exercises that are used in couples therapy, but many of them can also be done at home.
To finish, there are no major differences between heterosexual and homosexual couplesBut the latter have a number of specific characteristics that must be analyzed.
The team at the University of Washington studied heterosexual marriages, so the results we have shown from their research as well as the tools; they are addressed to them. The differences between men and women are a variable taken into account in the research. however, these problems have manifested themselves in all kinds of couplesSo the tips explained here can be helpful to everyone.
Author: Susana Merino García. Psychologist specializing in psychopathology and health and member of BarnaPsico.
- Gottman, J. (2008). Ten keys to transforming your marriage. Planet Group (GBS).
- Beyebach, M., and de Vega, MH (2016). 200 tasks in brief therapy: 2nd edition. Editorial Herder.
- Beyebach, M. (2014). 24 ideas for a brief psychotherapy. Editorial Herder.