Evidence-Based Ways to Improve Your Relationship Right Now

relationship

Do you ever wonder if you’re alone in struggles with your partner? Do you wish you had a road map for cultivating a positive, healthy, and loving relationship? Dr. Julie and John Gottman are renowned [and married] clinical psychologists who have dedicated their life's work to researching the anchors and pitfalls of couples. Together, they founded The Gottman Institute based on their integrated findings from decades of research and clinical practice.

Topics Covered:

  • Potential benefits of reading
  • The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse
  • The Sound Relationship House Theory

Potential Benefits of Reading this Blog

  • Educate yourself on evidence-based tips for improving your relationship.
  • Learn of potential blindspots for your behaviours that might contribute to relationship conflict.
  • Normalize your experience and gain reassurance that there is hope for positive change.

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

There is no such thing as perfection when it comes to relationships. Intimate relationships are comprised of two or more unique individuals with their own biology, personality traits, and psychosocial history. It makes sense that communication is key when it comes to learning how to live harmoniously together. Everyone has different needs and preferences for showing and receiving love.

Dr. Julie and John Gottman have dedicated their life’s work to working with couples and examining the ‘do’s’ and ‘don’ts’ of what makes a relationship likely to flourish or collapse. Specifically, they have identified four major communication styles that are predictors of divorce with 93% accuracy (Fowler & Dillow, 2011).

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse:

  1. Criticism: when either partner attacks the other's character, beliefs, personality, appearance, or actions. It uses accusatory or exaggerated [black and white] language that tends to provoke.
    Sounds like: "You never help me with chores around the house!"
    "You always wear your shirt like that."
     
  2. Defensiveness: when either partner fails to take accountability, apologize, or admit any wrongdoing or part in the conflict.
    Sounds like:
    Partner: "I wish you had told me you were going to be home late. It made me sad and I stayed up late waiting."
    Defensiveness: "Well I told you I was out with my friends. You shouldn't have waited. What was I supposed to do? Be glued to my phone the whole time?"
  3. Contempt: behaviour that implies one is superior over the other, such as condescending remarks or body language cues.
    Looks like: eye-rolling, sneering, sarcasm, name-calling, mocking, scoffing.
  4. Stonewalling: occurs when one partner shuts down or disengages from the interaction.
    Looks like: lack of eye contact, pretending to be busy, no speaking, leave the room, turned body language, headphones in
the four horsemen antidotes

A Compassionate Perspective

These behaviours are displayed in relationship communication to varying degrees and they are more common among anxious attachment styles (Fowler & Dillow, 2011).

People behave in seemingly ineffective ways for all kinds of reasons, such that it's generally useful to avoid judgment and seek to understand the underpinnings of the behaviour through a lens of compassion. For example, certain behaviour could have been normalized growing up as a child witnessing parents who had a lot of conflict. Alternatively, perhaps you or your partner have never experienced a relationship that you were not hurt in, and have developed defence mechanisms as a self-protective reflex. Or, perhaps you or your partner have not yet learned healthier ways of communicating needs or expressing emotions.

Consequently, the Gottmans have proposed four "antidotes" to the four horsemen for alternative strategies to help turn towards your partner rather than away. Over 30 years of Gottman research suggests the use of:

  • Gentle start up
  • Take responsibility
  • Describe your own feelings and needs, don't speak for your partner
  • Do physiological self-soothing

Change is possible if both parties are willing and committed to making the relationship better. Connect with one of our experienced therapists today to improve your skills and develop a more satisfying and peaceful relationship. Click here to complete a contact form.

An Important Note on Domestic Violence

Please note: This blog should not be used as a replacement for help from a mental health professional. If you are experiencing domestic violence or abuse help is available. Domestic violence is a serious and complex issue that you should not have to navigate alone. The following resources are available to you:

Canadian Women's Foundation

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Assaulted Women's Helpline

The Sound Relationship House

The Gottman’s Sound Relationship House theory is based on their collaborative research and a suggested a framework for couples who want to build a relationship based on trust and commitment. It involves two pillars, Trust and Commitment, and seven levels that any couple can apply to improve their emotional stability and peace in their relationship.

The Seven Levels of The Sound Relationship House include:

  • Build Love Maps
  • Share Fondness and Admiration
  • Turn Towards Instead of Away
  • The Positive Perspective
  • Manage Conflict
  • Make Life Dreams Come True
  • Create Shared Meaning

You can learn to apply these concepts in your relationship by furthering your knowledge on the topic or working with a licensed therapist to explore your specific concerns and hopes.

Suggested reading for self-help: The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work by Dr. John Gottman

sound relationship house

References

  1. Fowler, C., & Dillow, M. R. (2011). Attachment dimensions and the four horsemen of the apocalypse. Communication Research Reports28(1), 16-26
  2. Gottman, J. M., Coan, J., Carrere, S., & Swanson, C. (1998). Predicting marital happiness and stability from newlywed interactions. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 5-22..
  3. Gottman, J. (n.d.). The empirical basis for Gottman method couples therapy. The Gottman Institute. Retreived from: https://www.gottman.com/blog/the-empirical-basis-for-gottman-method-couples-therapy/
  4. The Gottman Institute. (2014). Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1o30Ps-_8is
  5. The Gottman Institute (n.d.). What is the sound relationship house? Retrieved from: https://www.gottman.com/blog/what-is-the-sound-relationship-house/