There are four totally underestimated negatives that destroy relationships. Whether it is with your intimate partner, your children, friends or even your work colleagues. It is in our power to actively change our behaviours to lesson or remove the impact these negatives can have on our lives, and funnily enough on the lives of those who matter most to us. Its amazing how often by changing our own behaviours we see the same changes occur in others. When you make a conscious effort to avoid these behaviours they will go a long way to ensuring you maintain love and respect within your family.
When you criticise, you are really implying that there is something wrong with the person you are addressing. You have seen a problem between you and them, and you have made it about them. Unfortunately, we then move into the absolute language such as: “You always” or “you never” which is a key sign that you are actually criticising them. What is the result? They are likely to feel they are under attack, therefore they become defensive. This is a dangerous pattern as neither person will feel heard and it can begin the slippery slope of self-esteem and feeling bad about themselves.
The answer to criticism is to make a direct open complaint that is not a general attack on your partner’s personality, its about being open, transparent, honest and above all caring when you raise areas that you would like to see addressed.
Contempt is any verbal comment or nonverbal behaviour that puts yourself on a higher ground than your partner. Mocking, calling them names, rolling your eyes, sarcasm and sneering are all examples of contempt. Of all the four primary negatives, contempt is the most serious to the relationship and the hardest to combat. These types of put downs will be the fastest to destroy the love and warmth in the relationship. This is just as relevant to intimate couples as it is to relationships with children and parents.
The answer to contempt is to immediately stem it and call out contemptuous statements and behaviours so together you can work on why the persons feels the need to show contempt and how to appreciate each other for your strengths and not exaggerate the perceived weaknesses, either in the person or the relationship. This is not easy but if you want to save your relationships, learning to eliminate contempt is paramount.
Once a person feels the need to defend then there is a perception of attack, even if it is not meant. Defensiveness comes in many forms, whining, silence, retorts, body language or acting like a victim. Defensiveness does not serve either party as it means the defender is not taking any responsibility for their part in the issue, even if they are the innocent party. The result tends to be an escalation of negative behaviours. Even if you do feel as if you are being criticised or attacked unfairly, defensiveness is not the way to go. It will only fuel a deterioration in the situation.
The answer to defensiveness is to listen to the complaint and to take some responsibility for the problem in order to be able to constructively pursue a mutually acceptable solution.
Stonewalling happens when the listener withdraws from the conversation. This may be where someone actually leaves the situation or they might just withdraw from the conversation and appear to shut down. Typically it will appear as if they don’t care or are not interested, but that usually isn’t the case. In fact this is mostly relevant to men (about 80% of the time) who would rather withdraw than work together to find a solution. Typically they are overwhelmed or worn out and just have had enough or they may be trying to get a handle on their anger and frustration. Unfortunately, this can be like a red rag to a bull, especially if to women, as the assumption that the other person doesn’t care about the problem or just won’t talk about it. This is particularly relevant between parents and teenage children where stonewalling is particularly prevalent. It can be a vicious circle with one person demanding to talk and the other looking for escape and the stonewalling becomes the main point of contention.
The answer is to learn to identify the signs that stonewalling is beginning and identify if it is overwhelm, repetition of the same subject (perpetual problem), or insecurity. When this occurs the first thing to do is to take a break and pick up later when everyone is calmer or in a different state of mind.
- Learn to make specific complaints & requests in an unemotional and non-personal way.
- Conscious communication: Speaking the truth without opinion & listening empathically to answers.
- Validate any part of what you agree with and what makes sense to you, and that you can appreciate how they are feeling before putting an alternative argument forward. Try to see the issue through their eyes before responding.
- Learn to appreciate the differences and create a culture of acceptance and tolerance. Ask yourself “What can I learn from this?” & “What can I do about it?”
- Replace thoughts of righteous indignation or innocent victimisation with thoughts of appreciation, taking responsibility and accountability projecting more of a caring and considerate attitude.
- Practice not jumping in and defending, consciously recognise that the other person often will be just letting off steam and letting go of their frustrations, they are not necessarily really directed at you. Remember the adage: “you always hurt the ones you love the most”. Most of all, don’t let your head start to create alternative stories that you remember better than what really happened.