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Alexander has been contributing for THS for over a year! While he attained a major in communications at SFU, he also recieved a minor in Psychology. Despite those accomplishments, Alex has also never had a full cup of coffee (crazy right?!). Alex is a lifelong sports fan and will defend his Seattle Seahawks to the death, especially if faced against a 49er fan. While Alex's long-term goal is to become a marriage counsellor, he also has a strong passion towards writing that he looks forward to exploring.

Stop Horsing Around! 4 Flaws That Can Hinder Any Relationship

Image Credit: Alex Keobke

I was once told by my parents that one of the most important decisions that I may ever make with my life, is who I decide to marry. While they stressed other strong core values and priorities, I was always taught the value of a strong marriage. At the time, my main priority was probably centered around saving up enough money for a new pack of Pokémon cards in hopes for Charizard. Yet as I continue to get older, my parents continue to stress the importance of finding a strong partner. At over 30 years of marriage, it is easy to see why my parents try and stress the importance of that decision. Currently, I am a recent graduate, my stress, like others, is figuring out what job you’re going to do and how to turn that next corner in life.

However, even if you get a fantastic job, if you came home to someone who you could not stand then would it really be worth it? As of now, at the ripe old age of 23, I am blessed with a partner that is caring and supports me and even if I may make a few dumb jokes (…an hour) she stays patient with me because she knows one day I may say something genuinely funny! Her lack of criticism is a driving force as to why I am so confident to be myself in all situations. Yet I am not here to write about why my girlfriend is awesome (Sorry, Darra), but to help discuss the flaws that can help breakdown any healthy, or unhealthy relationships.  There is a reason that your partner is one of the more important decisions you will help ultimately make, and there are qualities you can look for when knowing what to avoid before making a potential mistake. World-renowned marriage therapist and psychology professor, Dr. John Gottman discusses four flaws, known as his ‘four horsemen’ and how these traits can help cause strife in any relationship. It is through a proper awareness of some of the negative emotions to avoid in relationships that you can gain a further understanding of what helps make the proper relationship work.

Dr. Gottman mentions that one of the biggest breakdowns, and his first ‘horse’ in most relationships can be centered on the topic of criticism. While it may seem like good fun to criticize television (or local sports teams…damn Mariners) in a relationship it can cause serious issues. Criticism in this regard attacks your partner to the very core and as a result, attacks who they are as a person. I was rocking the ever popular 3rd wheel role with my friends Bob and Janet as they were on a date in the local mall. Janet asked to borrow money for a sale, yet when Bob refused instead of understanding; Janet muttered ‘you are a super selfish person’ and stormed off, hardly fair! The problem in Janet’s behavior is not only was it uncalled for, but by attacking Bob’s values (such as his ‘selfishness’) she is chipping the confidence that Bob may have in himself and in the relationship. That being said, perhaps Janet’s outburst is forgivable, after all we all make mistakes? But not so fast buddy, because criticism can often lead to or include the 2nd of the dangerous traits, contempt!

Contempt you say? Yeah right, like that’s ACTUALLY an issue in relationships, idiot! Except it totally is and an example of it was in that first sentence! Contempt is often accompanied by some kick-ass sarcasm, some academy award winning eye rolling and topped off with perhaps a name call or two. When you see it in relationships, it often works by invalidating your partner and making them feel just awful about themselves. As Dr. Gottman points out with this 2nd characteristic, there is no benefit by adding a mocking or sarcastic tone to your behavior and it can often lead to the other person feeling invalidated. It isn’t as easy to act mature, and Lord knows immature answers can come to your mind quicker, but be civil! Treat your partner as if you were on a first date, a longer relationship history is no excuse to start acting like an unpleasant person.

The problem with the 4 horsemen is that they often build off of each other and in turn can escalate any negative scenario. Ultimately, if someone is stating words of contempt/criticism at you, you may respond with the 3rd ‘horse’, defensiveness. Defensiveness manifests itself when you try and reflect statements made at you, as attacks at the other person. If Bob forgets to grab soda from the store and this upsets Janet, he may in turn call Janet an idiot stating that it was her fault he forgot. In the process Bob would deflect the responsibility off of himself (not my fault, it’s hers!) but also attacks Janet as a person. Talk about a double whammy of sadness!

Now don’t worry, this article isn’t all doom and gloom as there is only one other trait that can add stress to your relationship and that is stonewalling. Stonewalling can be damaging as it often involves you just removing yourself from the conversation, essentially completely ignoring the other person. This can be done by physically not responding, by acting distant, storming off (like Janet in the mall) but can also manifest when people say ‘nothing is wrong’ because they do not want to confront a negative emotion. Relationships need communication to thrive, and there is nothing wrong with needing some space to sort out an issue. But you must communicate that need with a partner, in order to not make them feel rejected. If my girlfriend says ‘Hun I need some space’ it is far more effective than ignoring me and hoping I figure it out (spoiler alert: I probably won’t).

So the question then gets asked, okay well I can’t do any of these behaviors than how do I fight? How do I ‘win’ an argument? Yet what really qualifies as winning? My goal is always to have disagreements, but never arguments which may sound similar but there can be a difference. If you utilize one of the Dr. Gottman’s ‘horsemen’ then you may have an argument on hand. Yet you can also discuss your differences in an open and mature manner and as a process grow as a couple without attacking the other person. I am not dating a robot, my girlfriend is going to have differences of opinions, but it is important to celebrate them as opposed to using them as reasons to argue.  Remember you aren’t there to keep score, only to try and keep the other person as happy as they make you.

Relationships are not easy. The right ones anyway, take a lot of work. They take active thought and listening, they take empathy and they take caring and devotion. They take the strength to avoid these 4 horsemen especially in times of stress and anxiety, and relationships take the patience to know that the right thing is worth working for. The right relationship will not happen overnight, but if you put in the effort you may find something incredibly rewarding. Or as my parents would put it, you may find one of the things that help make life come together.

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One Comment on “Stop Horsing Around! 4 Flaws That Can Hinder Any Relationship”

  1. liveclarelesley October 1, 2014 at 1:30 pm #

    I read these tips the other day. Totally agree. Healthy relationships are grown in a supporting and loving environment.

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