In the last issue we touched on the issue of how parents interact between themselves could affect children’s development, as children learn through modeling. Children could also pick up on unwritten rules around gender roles through watching how parents relate to each other. The important point to note here is of course that a positive relationship between parents is paramount to the well-being of the whole family.
However, given that conflicts and disagreements within a family are unavoidable, are there things parents can keep in mind to safeguard the integrity of their marital relationship?
John Gottman is the god-father in the field of psychology when it comes to what breaks and makes a marriage. He has identified four relational patterns that are toxic for a marriage. In fact, divorce lawyers are saying the same thing.
These are the four relational approaches to avoid.
Criticisms often take the form of a personal attack: “You are selfish.” “You are needy.” “You are irresponsible.” Instead of communicating one is unhappy with a behavior (which can be changed), criticism aims at a person’s character. When we are hurt and attacked by our partner, it demotivates us to work through a problem.
Contempt communicates a lack of respect for and even a sense of disgust with your partner. It can be nonverbal, like eye-rolling, a sarcastic tone, and a hostile attitude. Contempt is toxic, and can destroy partners’ motivation to resolve conflicts.
Defensiveness is a way of deflecting the problem and disowning responsibility. Instead of working towards a resolution, partners are saying “I am not the problem. You are.” It can turn into a blame game where no one wins.
Stonewalling is highly damaging. It communicates “You don’t matter enough for me to stay engaged in communication.” It leaves the other person feeling abandoned and alone. When the sense of connectedness is gone, the relationship is emotionally starved.
Among these four patterns, contempt is the most toxic because it communicates a sense of judgment and disgust at one’s partner and a sense of superiority in oneself.
So, what can we do instead, when dealing with disagreements and conflicts? We will find out in the next issue.