Navigating Romantic Relationships is not always easy. Even good couples can easily shift from a place of feeling at ease that involves open communication and mutual respect to a place of hurt feelings, defensiveness and personal criticism without too much effort. Why does this happen?
One day you and your mate are laughing and feeling as though the two of you are on the same page about your relationship. It seems as though the two of can you tackle any problem as a team. Then one day, it seems from no where you cannot agree on the simplest issues. You are bickering over anything and everything. You find yourself feeling defensive and worked up emotionally and physically. This is because as you get closer you feel more vulnerable, their opinions, especially ones that relate to you take on more significance and as a result you react in more emotional ways. Why does this happen? This is because without conscious awareness you automatically come to expect unconditional support and agreement from your partner. Their differences in opinions are not just about a difference in preference but a rejection of you and your ideas.
For example, when your boss asks you to take on yet another project without promise of a raise or promotion, instead of jumping on your band wagon of “how could the boss ask such things!”, your significant other plays devil’s advocate and points out that maybe your boss is under financial distress, as a result you feel betrayed and frustrated that your feelings are not being acknowledged and ideas supported. To you it seems that he /she is taking your boss’ side rather than seeing things your way, after all, your partner knows how hard you have been working lately. The meta-message you are receiving is that “you don’t agree with me, you are not on my team”
Meta message are unconscious message that we interpret from the behaviors of others. Other examples of where we read meta-messages can include not agreeing on how you should spend time together, raise kids or pets, how to spend/save money and how to respond to friends and family.
When your expectations are not met by your partner it can easily lead to an over abundance of the 4 notorious relationship killing behaviors: Criticism, Contempt, Defensiveness and Stonewalling. These 4 relationship killers are known as the 4 horseman and have been researched unequivocally as the MOST damaging features of a relationship*. These are :
1. Criticism: Attacking your partner’s personality or character, usually with the intent of someone being right and someone being wrong. Examples include, generalizations: “you always…” “you never…”“you’re the type of person who …” “why are you so …”
2. Contempt: Attacking your partner’s sense of self with the intention to deeply insult or ridicule them. Examples include – Insults and name-calling and hostile behavior and mockery. “Jerk, lazy, ” or eye rolling, and sneering.
3. Defensiveness: Extreme rejection of any responsibility and playing the victim. Examples include making excuses, always explaining how the circumstances were beyond your control, raising counter arguments , or belittling their complaints “It’s not my fault…”, “Yes but … …”. “You are not so innocent; it’s nice to be a perfect person”.
4. Stonewalling: Withdrawing from the relationship as a way to avoid conflict. You may think you are trying to be “neutral” but stonewalling conveys disapproval, icy distance, separation, disconnection, and/or smugness. Examples, include prolonged silence, mutterings, changing the subject. This is different from self-care which conveys “I cannot talk about this right now, I need time to calm down or process, we can address this later”.
*Renowned relationship expert, Psychologist John Gottman and the Gottman Institute has done extensive long-term studies monitoring real couples and creating specific techniques to combat the 4 horseman. Dr. Jayme Albin is a Clinical Psychologist and a graduate of the Gottman method and brings the Gottman method of resolving couples disputes and strengthening your relationship to you in the New York City area.
For more information please email or call us today. DrJayme@askthecbt.com 212-631-1133. We accept most major insurance plans (out of network benefits only) and have a sliding fee scale for those without insurance.
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