The human drive to bond is hardwired from an evolutionary perspective, we are social animals with the propensity and neurobiology to make and maintain strong affectional bonds. We all strive to find someone who can sees us, know us, connect with us and love us despite all our imperfections. Romantic relationships are important for our well-being and happiness offering us heaven or hell in terms of emotional experiences, impacting life satisfaction and even life expectancy in relation to our physical health. Several studies have shown that poor relationships can add to poor health outcomes.
Disagreements are part of every couple relationship, no two people share the same life/self template in terms of thoughts, beliefs, attitudes, values, aspirations or previous life experiences. How we mange these differences and how we actually disagree about them is the important factor in whether we solve relationship issues and manage to keep the couple bond stable, safe and secure. Couples need to be matched in their ability to deal with differences. Couples who never fight have been shown to have higher divorce rates as it indicates a lack of investment in solving problems and an unhealthy avoidance pattern. Equally couples with a mismatched conflict style which is where one person wants to solve problems, raises issues and the other person wants to avoid dealing with them also show a higher rate of divorce.
In studies of secure healthy relationships it has been found that couples who "fight well" as opposed to relationships that are struggling indicates there is a strong correlation to relationship breakdown as a direct result of not "fighting well".
What do we mean by not "fighting well"? Dr. John Gottman, a leading researcher on couple relationships for over 40 years has identified 4 behaviours that are typical of high conflict couples who do not fight in a constructive or respectful way, he calls these behaviours:
THE FOUR HORSEMEN OF THE APOCALYPSE.
These behaviours are negative and when they form a pattern can destroy an intimate connection and replace it with a great dividing wall between couples.
Each partner can end up feeling, unseen, unheard, unknown unappreciated and ultimately unloved. When we feel like this for a long period of time, the next step is potentially a relationship breakdown.
So have an honest look at the 4 behaviours and commit to minimising each behavioural horseman YOU engage in.
Your relationship depends on it. Research by the Gottman Institute indicates that these very behaviours are key precursors to relationship break down.
Attacking your partner’s personality or character, usually with the intent of making someone right and someone wrong, usually you want to be right and of course your partner is wrong, it is never a wise relationship move to seek to make another person wrong.
Generalizations and labelling fit into the category of criticism, statements like “you always...”“you never...", why don't you.....you’re the type of person who..."
Attacking your partner’s sense of self with the intention to insult, derogatory name-calling, hostile humor, sarcasm or mockery also fit into the contempt basket, contempt is usually accompanied by negative body language such as eye rolling, turning away from the person etc. Unmanaged anger is usually involved in contempt as is low impulse control.
This behaviour is very destructive and causes gridlock, where issues cannot be explored in an open and healthy way. It is generally as a result of seeing oneself as the victim, warding off a perceived attack, percieved being the important word here...the other partner may just be bringing up an issue but any problem is seen as attack however small or well meant.... making excuses is another form of defence (e.g., external circumstances beyond your control forced you to acting a certain way) “It’s not my fault..., I didn't ".
Cross complaining is another form of defensivness, this involves meeting your partner’s complaint or criticism with a complaint of your own in order to detract and deflect from the point raised, ignoring what your partner has said altogether, hoping that it or actually they will just go away right now.
Disagreeing and then cross complaining “That’s not true, you’re the one who ...” Remember when you did this, well that was worse than"...
Yes butting is another tactic: you start off sounding like you are actually agreeing but end up disagreeing by putting a bit "BUT" into it.
Withdrawing verbally or physically from the relationship as a way to avoid conflict or deflect the conflict. Stonewalling can convey disapproval, icy distance, separation and disconnection. What does it look like in terms of behaviour? well, It comes in the form of stony silence, monosyllabic mutterings or again changing the subject entirely .."yeagh well anyway enough of that". All these behaviors send messages to your partner that you do not value them or value what they are trying to discuss enough for you to hang in there to listen to them and problem solve together in the best interests of the relationship. Remember the problem is unlikely to go anywhere except as a brick into that great dividing wall that separates you and your partner.
Wouldn't you rather build intimacy and a loving connection with your partner instead of brick walls?
Work on the 4 behaviours and take responsibility for your part.