One of the many questions that couples ask when starting therapy is, “How do I have a successful marriage?” I would love to answer this question without hesitation, however I cannot. Marriages are not “one size fits all” when it comes to what works best for successful relationships. Because everyone is different, it takes time within the counseling process to find out what works for each couple.

Dr. John Gottman, a psychologist at the University of Washington, studied more than 2,000 married couples over two decades. He discovered patterns about how partners relate to each other that can be used to predict (with 94% accuracy) which marriages will succeed and which will fail. He found that the four types of interactions, criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling (in order of least to most dangerous), were the most identifiable in predicting a relationship’s demise.

Criticism: The attacking of your spouse’s character or personality to prove you are right and they are wrong.

– This may start by using phrases like: “you always” or “why are you so”.

Contempt: The attacking of your spouse’s sense of self to insult or abuse.

– This horseman shows up in the form of sarcasm, cynicism, name-calling, eye rolling, sneering, mockery and hostile humor.

Defensiveness: This happens when a spouse views them self as a victim to avoid an attack or disagreement in their relationship (i.e. “The problem is not me, it’s you”).

– This may show up as making excuses (“It’s not my fault”), not paying attention to what your partner is saying and/or whining (“It’s not fair”).

Stonewalling: This is when one spouse withdraws from the relationship (without any attempt to come back and resolve the disagreement) to avoid conflict.

– This might come in the form of tuning out, changing the topic and/or becoming silent.

If you have read over these four interactions and thought that you or your relationship may be heading into a direction that is destructive, there is hope! With work, these patterns can be identified, challenged and changed. Remember, change is a process and one that requires time and commitment. The sooner you are able to acknowledge that parts of your relationship are becoming unhealthy, the quicker you can start to explore your options and discover new ways of relating to your spouse.

If you’re in the Atlanta area and would like to make an appointment with Adam visit: Thriveworks Atlanta or call us at 404-682-1923.

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