May 31, 2012
We Just Disagree
In The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, relationship expert Dr. John Gottman identifies four types of negativity that, if allowed to continue unchecked, will kill a marriage. They are criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling.
Criticism is not the same as complaining. A complaint is about a specific problem. For example, you may be annoyed because your spouse didn't take out the trash. A complaint addresses this issue by saying, "It was your turn to take out the trash, but you didn't do it. What happened? I'm really upset because I expected you to take care of it and I ended up doing it when I was busy with other things." A criticism attacks the other person's character: "Why are you so lazy? You're always trying to get me to do your job. I can never count on you." Complaints are much more likely than criticisms to be resolved. We may not always be able to avoid criticism when we feel upset, but when criticism becomes an ongoing theme it is damaging to the relationship.
Contempt is displayed through sarcasm, mockery and insults. When people are contemptuous of their partners, they make faces, speak disrespectfully, use humor in a hostile way, and turn away from attempts at reconciliation. When spouses behave contemptuously, they hold themselves up as better than their partners. They are more interested in being "right" than in resolving the problem. Contempt solves nothing, but leads to more conflict.
Defensiveness often appears as a reaction to criticism and contempt. A spouse who feels attacked and blamed will counter-attack and try to move blame to the partner. Someone using defensiveness may hope that his or her spouse will back down and apologize, but instead the spouse simply becomes defensive in return and the conflict escalates.
Stonewalling happens when one partner simply opts out. The stonewaller refuses to respond to his partner. He remains silent, avoids eye contact, and may even get up and leave the room. This does not end the conflict. The partner who receives this treatment often responds by getting even angrier and may resort to extreme criticism, contempt, screaming, and even destructive behavior in the hope of getting some kind of response....Read More