Do you know about Criticism, Defensiveness, Contempt and Stonewalling?
Have you ever applied any one of these strategies to shut down an argument?
Have you NEVER been on the receiving end of any one of these four behaviours?
If you say yes to either one of these two questions, please call me immediately. I want to meet you and know the secret to your relationships.
We use these strategies all the time but they are no joking matter
But let’s be serious. It is not uncommon to use Criticism and Defensiveness, Contempt or Stonewalling in our relationships. Did you know that they are the four indicators that predict divorce? The more these behaviours permeate your relationship, the surer you can be that it is heading toward the abyss.
I would like to look at them from both ways: Why do we behave like this and why are they indicators of a bad relationship? I hope that you have an inkling about the answer to the first question? None of these behaviours are relationship building but all of them help you to get your partner ‘off your back’. Remember which part of the brain is responsible for that? Yes, it is our lizard/survival/primitive/reptilian brain. The one that is not socially inclined at all but rather thinks in black and white terms of survival.
What does your survival brain have to do with Criticism, Defensiveness, Contempt and Stonewalling?
I know it sounds a bit crazy to say that you are thinking in survival terms when you have stress with your partner, but that is just how our brain helps us stay alive. Once triggered enough, it will think black and white, life and death, and change the tone of your voice (especially noticeable in contempt), raise your voice, lower your voice, hasten your speech; really do whatever it takes to stay on top or get out.
Now, remember, this part of your brain is not social, so it doesn’t care much about what happens afterwards. It just uses the best way to achieve its goal. And that answers the second question. The more time you spent in this place, the more your relation to your partner suffers. None of these behaviours foster secure, close, caring or nurturing relational experiences and over time, the relationship suffers more and more. It’s not unlike putting the wrong fuel into your car repeatedly. Over time it destroys the engine!
I want to invite you to begin to take stock on your own behaviour:
Which one is your favourite when you get upset about your partner? Are they all part of your repertoire or just one or two? How often do they pop up in a day, a week or a month?
And also, what triggers them? Do you respond with criticism when your partner behaves in a particular way or may be just because it is your habit? Do you use stonewalling when you feel unfairly treated and to let your partner know they are not getting off the hook so easily? Or is contempt your go-to way to shut up a nagging partner who complains about the same thing you haven’t done over and over?
It’s time to make changes!
Use this time as a bit of a self-diagnosis of how you are going and by all means – start TALKING WITH YOUR PARTNER about what it is you do. Be brave, get a bit vulnerable and put yourself out there into the space of your relationship and ask them about it!