Let’s take a look at Defensiveness…it rarely has its desired effect in arguments! Defensiveness hopes deep down somewhere inside us our partners will see our point of view as right, back down from their firmly held position and say “Of course you’re right and I humbly apologise!” or something like that! Mmmm…not sure about you but this tactic rarely works in my arguments. The reason, the message of defensiveness is often one of blaming, ‘you’re the problem not me!’ or taking the victim stance ‘I can’t believe you’re saying this to me, what about all the things I’ve done well, there’s just no pleasing you’. Really defensiveness is just another weapon in conflict escalation!. (Gottman, 2015)
Practical Relationship Tip #2!
Previously we’ve considered the negative affects criticism can have on relationships.
Today we shift focus to ‘contempt’. Contempt often results from negative thoughts about our partner, frequently connected to unresolved differences. It’s certainly easy to think negatively about your partner, I’m sure we’ve all done that…especially when you see yourself as superior in some area of the relationship! However, as these negative thoughts persist contempt builds and festers rearing its head in many different ways e.g. name-calling, eye-rolling, mockery and hostile humour. The message received by our partner is one of disgust, making problem solving near impossible, after all who wants to work on issues with someone that’s disgusted by them!
Contempt can be particular harmful to relationships. One way to reduce contempt is to focus on your partners positive contributions to the relationship and share your appreciation of these.
Does criticism dominate your arguments? Research conducted by Drs John and Julie Gottman suggests it’s one of four predictive factors of relationship failure.
Let’s face it we all have complaints about our partners which can create opportunities for criticism! However, a simple shift in response can significantly influence the outcome of disagreements and help you stay connected with your partner!
Let’s take a closer look at how criticism may appear in relationships.
Firstly criticism has a harsh overtone and secondly criticism is typically a personal attack on character or personality.
An example of criticism may look something like this… “Why can’t you ever remember anything? I told you a thousand times to fill the car with petrol, and you didn’t. You’re always so careless.”
Criticism is common in many relationships and often results in a defensive response from your partner.
An alternative to criticism is complaint…complaint has a softer overtone and keeps the focus on the event or action as opposed to perceived partner inadequacies. A complaint usually has three parts (1) How you feel, (2) About whatever the issue is, (3) What you need/want/prefer. An example of complaint may look something like this…“There’s no petrol in the car. I’m upset that you didn’t fill it up like you said you would. Could you please deal with it tomorrow?”
Tip - conversations which start negatively usually end the same way!