13 May, 2011

Couples often express difficulty in communicating. Communication is a key component in creating solid foundations for a healthy relationship.  Good communication consists of three essential skills

  • Listening to what the other person is saying,
  • Expressing how you feel and what you think, and
  • Accepting the other person’s opinions and feelings even when they are different from your own.

Dr John Gottman has found through his research into couples, that there are four communication “spoilers” that couples can do when they disagree, he calls them the four horsemen. They are:

  • Criticism: saying there is something wrong/defective with your partner eg: “What kind of person are you?”.
  • Contempt: taking the moral high ground eg: “My family wouldn’be so low as to do something like that, unlike your family”.
  • Defensiveness: Protecting or justifying behaviour by retaliation eg: “Yeah, but what about what you did”.
  • Stonewalling: shutting down, associated with high physiological arousal and efforts to self-soothe with negative self-talk such as, “Here we go again, does she ever stop”.

If these horsemen are present when couples talk, it did does not necessarily mean the end of the relationship, but what it does mean is that each time couples engage in conversation, it makes it harder and harder to positively communicate and this may ultimately lead to the end of the relationship.

So how can we better communicate with our partner without using the horsemen?  There are some things that we can do that not only help get our message across to our partner, but also build a healthy relationship where both can openly and assertively express themselves.

  • Choose the right time and place, not when you are busy or tired.  Make a special time
  • Don’t go off on a tangent, stick to the issue
  • Think of the positives as well.  It is hard to be nasty if you are thinking of good things about your partner.  You will find you can still get your point across but the insults will not be present.
  • Make your point and encourage your partner to be involved.
  • Accept that your partner and you can never think or feel the same about issues. 
  • And finally be aware of gender differences in communication and discuss these differences, if they exist with you and your partner
    • Often men offer solutions to problems and want to achieve results whereas women want to share feelings and discuss difficulties
    • Men’s talk is concerned with exhibiting knowledge, passing on information, preserving status and independence. The emphasis for women is on displaying similarity, establishing connections and creating intimacy.
    • Some people tend to think internally and express the finished product of their thoughts, whereas others tend to think aloud, sharing their inner dialogue.

At Relationships Australia, we offer couple counselling which can assist you and your partner in building, re-building and maintaining a healthy relationship. Call 1300 364 277 to find your nearest Relationships Australia venue.


This article was written and supplied by Relationships Australia Queensland. Any reproduction of this article is prohibited unless agreed upon by Relationships Australia Queensland.