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The 4 Things That Ruin Relationships (and How to Avoid Them)

posted: 02/23/16
by: Mara Betsch
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  • Marriage is a constant battle.
    Marriage is a constant battle.
    Image Credit: iStock
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    4 Bad Relationship Habits

    There are relationship experts, and then there’s clinical psychologist and marriage researcher John Gottman, Ph.D. He’s been featured in numerous books (including “Blink” by Malcolm Gladwell) and publications because he’s turned marriage into, well, a science.

    For nearly 40 years, he’s researched married couples to determine which habits and characteristics bond couples and which ones tear them apart. What he discovered is that 69 percent of married couples’ issues are “perpetual,” meaning that they don’t get resolved after an argument. However, it’s how couples deal with these issues over time that really shows how long a marriage will last.

    And he’s extremely good at predicting these things — he predicted, with 90 percent accuracy, which couples would divorce and which ones would stay together in a 2002 study. In fact, he’s isolated the “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse,” as he calls them, or the four behaviors that set you on the path to divorce. Read on to see what they are — and how to avoid them.

  • Yelling is never the answer.
    Yelling is never the answer.
    Image Credit: iStock
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    (Not Constructive) Criticism

    When you’re with someone for a long time, there will be a time when his or her “quirks” aren’t so cute anymore. But when it comes to arguing with a partner, one of the most damaging things you can do is blaming the problem in your relationship on a partner’s perceived character flaw. For example, if you’re frustrated with your partner’s contribution to household chores, blaming his or her lack of effort on laziness is not the way to go.

    How to avoid it: Unfortunately, ladies are more likely to do this than men. Start by banning the phrases “you always” or “you never” from your vocabulary. Instead, focus on the real issue at hand. Are you mad that your partner isn’t helping out around the house because you’re tired or stressing about an external issue? By saying something like “You know, the project at work has really stressed me out. Would you mind helping me around the house so that I can focus some of my attention on it on the weekends,” you’re pointing the finger at yourself and addressing the problem in a gentle way.

  • "Talk to the hand" isn't an appropriate response.
    Image Credit: Istock
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    Defensiveness

    The natural reaction when someone is criticizing you is to 1. attack and or/blame the other person or 2. whine that the criticism is unfair. Unsurprisingly, neither are the best ways to resolve a conflict. And by going into attack mode, you’re ignoring the actual problem at hand.

    How to avoid it: As hard as it is, the best way to diffuse criticism is to, well, accept it, and even take responsibility for it. By saying “Tell me how you feel about this,” you’re opening the door for a more productive conversation.

  • Contempt doesn't resolve conflict.
    Contempt doesn't resolve conflict.
    Image Credit: iStock
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    Contempt

    According to Gottman, this is by far the biggest predictor of breakups. And it’s not hard to see why. When you’re acting holier than thou towards your partner, you’re acting with contempt. Sure, you can say things like “you’re an idiot,” or “how could you be so stupid,” but you’re doing just as much harm with nonverbal clues such as rolling your eyes.

    How to avoid it: It’s OK to fight and, in fact, it can be healthy. But when you’re discussing a problem, it’s important to focus on what you and your partner can do as a “we” to resolve the issue. Try to avoid belittling your partner, and instead, try to focus on their best qualities. A recent study in Psychological Science found that those who had unrealistically high praise for their partners were actually more satisfied with their marriage three years later.

  • Reconsider
    Reconsider "silent treatment."
    Image Credit: iStock
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    Stonewalling

    This phrase perfectly describes when a partner in a relationship completely shuts down during conflict. Though he or she may have plenty of reasons why they’re acting this way, it effectively tells the other person “What we’re talking about doesn’t interest me.” And sorry guys, but 85 percent of the time, it’s you who’s guilty of doing this.

    How to avoid it: Engage with your partner, or as Gottman likes to put it “respond positively to their bids.” Bids are just pleas for attention. This means that if your partner says “How was your day?” respond with something a little more than “fine.” It could even be as simple as “Great! I finally finished the project at work,” or “Not great. Joe told me he was getting divorced today.” Opening up and sharing builds strong, healthy relationships.