All marriages have relationship problems at some point or another, and some of those problems occur over and over again. This article is devoted to describing the four most common problems and how to fix them, based on Dr. John Gottman’s research.
Dr. Gottman is a professor emeritus at the University of Washington, as well as the co-founder of the Gottman Institute. In his tenure, he’s published over 190 papers and authored more than 40 books. After studying thousands of couples, Dr. Gottman has discovered similar threads running through each, which indicate whether a relationship is destined to thrive (Masters), or doomed to fail (Disasters). He calls the four indicators The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Here they are in order from least severe to the most severe:
The Four Most Common Problems in Relationships
This is when someone points a finger at their partner, criticizing their personality or character. In Dr. Gottman’s words:
“Criticism is staging the problem in a relationship as a character flaw in a partner. The Masters did the opposite: they point a finger at themselves and they really have a very gentle way of starting up the discussion, minimizing the problem and talking about what they feel and what they need.”
According to Dr. Gottman, women tend to criticize more than men. The men, however, are not off the hook. More later.
This occurs when one responds to a relationship by counterattacking or whining. In Dr. Gottman’s words:
“The second horseman was defensiveness, which is a natural reaction to being criticized. It takes two forms: counterattacking or acting like an innocent victim and whining. Again, the Masters were very different even when their partner was critical. They accepted the criticism, or even took responsibility for part of the problem. They said, ‘Talk to me, I want to hear how you feel about this.’”
According to Dr. Gottman, this is the #1 predictor of breakups. Contempt is when a person acts like they are a better person than their partner. In Dr. Gottman’s words:
“Contempt is talking down to their partner. Being insulting or acting superior. Not only did it predict relationship breakup, but it predicted the number of infectious illnesses that the recipient of contempt would have in the next four years when we measured health.”
This is when a person shuts down and tunes out, passively telling their partner that, “I don’t care.” According to Dr. Gottman, men do this more than women, about 85% of the time.
How to Fix the Four Most Common Problems in Relationships
Dr. Gottman suggests three ways:
#1. Know Your Partner
He calls this type of relationship building “love maps.” In his words:
“A love map is like a road map you make of your partner’s internal psychological world. The Masters were always asking questions about their partner and disclosing personal details about themselves.”
#2. Respond Positively to “bids.”
This is when a partner makes a comment, asking for acknowledgement. By responding positively to them, it helps strengthen the relationship. Those who don’t respond positively are in danger of losing their marriage. In Dr. Gottman’s words:
“The couples who divorced six years later had turned toward bids only 33% of the time. The couples [who] stayed married had turned toward bids 86% of the time.” He added, “If you turn toward bids at a high rate, you get a sense of humor during conflict. Humor is very powerful because it reduces physiological arousal during arguments.”
#3. Show admiration.
Masters see their partner in a very high positive light; Disasters see their partner in a very negative one. Those who thrive in their marriage can’t wait to share positive attributes about their spouse, can’t’ quit talking about them—just as if they were courting all over again.
These are the four most common problems in relationships, and three ways to fix them. What do you think? Share your thoughts on our Facebook page. Find out about what to do if you pick up the phone and here four scamming words.