by Dr. Kendra A. O’Hora, LCMFT
Have you ever been curious if you are fighting too much in your romantic relationship? Well, I have news for you…
And, how you fight says a lot. Researcher, John Gottman, explains in his research of couples that looking at the balance of positivity and negativity in partner interactions was key. He states, “in all marriage people display the behaviors that are predictive of marital dissolution” (p. 36).
Wait a minute, functional couples still interact in ways that often lead to divorce? Yes, yes they do!
Functional couples make and employ effective repair attempts during conflict (more on this later).
Let’s take this a step further.
The next big development by Gottman was that his research on couples’ conflict led to his development that the ratio of negativity to positivity of couples in conflict can predict marital outcome.
Specifically, he suggests that happy marriages are not without negativity, but rather they have more positivity than negativity during conflict. Through his research he made a few observations:
I’m only on page 40 out of a 452 page book! Eek! I need to hurry this summary up! SO…
Gottman took this data and started to wonder, is all negativity the same? This led to a concept called the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, which are:
What does this tell us?
Criticism is the first piece of conflict. And, criticism is different than complaining. Gottman says the blame inherently behind criticism is where the problem remains.
Next, is defensiveness, which is just like it sounds: a stance of “warding off a personal attack” (p. 45). It can include becoming a victim “I never get any appreciation” or denying responsibility “if you would’ve done the dishes than maybe I wouldn’t have snapped at dinner!”
The third piece is contempt: putting yourself on a higher plane than your partner (p. 45). Oddly enough, Gottman found in his research that a certain amount of contempt in husbands was predictive of illness in wives over the next four years – weird huh? >> Being mean to your partner is BAD for their health.
Finally, stonewalling, which is where the listener withdraws from the interaction (p. 46). Most stonewallers are men and when women stonewall it is quite predictive of divorce… uh-oh!
Now that you know the four horsemen, here’s where it counts:
Gottman believes everyone has these reactions at different points in time; however (back to the repair attempts) repair attempts are what keeps couples together.
What is a repair attempt?
Essentially, being your own therapist. Soothing each other, commenting on the conflict, softening, or reaching out to touch your partner. So, you now see that you can facilitate repair attempts in a variety of ways.
Marriage is no joke! If you are playing the four horsemen game with your partner it’s going to have an effect on your marriage…and not a good one!
Now, before I throw too much at you at once, now is a good time to take a break so we can ask ourselves some questions?
In your marriage, do you:
(1) have conflict with your partner?
(2) what does it look like? Which horsemen are you most likely to display? Which horsemen is your partner most likely to display?
(3) do you have more positivity than negativity during your conflict?
(4) do you make genuine repair attempts?
Take a good hard look at how you FIGHT in your marriage. This, my friend, is the best predictor of your long-term outcomes…NOT how much you fight.
While I so appreciate you tuning in to learn about what’s considered “too much fighting” or fighting fair, there’s so much more on our little corner of the web that can support you! In fact, I’ve barely scratched the surface in this blog post.
I regularly post resources and information for couples because that’s my sweet spot! Yep, I’m an expert at couples therapy and I love sharing everything I possibly can to help you grow! And, so much of my content is free!
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