All relationships, even the most successful ones, have conflict. It’s unavoidable.

Research shows that it’s not the appearance of conflict, but rather how it’s managed that predicts the success or failure of relationships.

In other words, Conflict is inevitable, Combat is optional!

We say “manage” conflict rather than “resolve,” because relationship conflict is natural and has functional, positive aspects that provide opportunities for growth and mutual understanding.

And there are problems that you just won’t solve due to natural differences between you and your partner, but if you can learn to manage problems in a healthy way, then your relationship will have much more chance of succeeding.

You may have heard of The 4 Horsemen of The Apocalypse!

I’m not referring to the Bible and the end of the world!

I am referring to:

– Criticism
– Contempt
– Defensiveness
– And Stonewalling

All of which, if regularly present, can lead to the end of your relationship!
So – the first step in effectively managing conflict is to identify and counteract The 4 Horsemen when they show up. If you don’t, you risk serious problems in the future of your relationship.

If you remember the concept of the Relationship Field from episode 3, the 4 Horsemen are like Roundup, killing anything that’s started to grow there.

The 1st Horseman is Criticism: Criticising your partner is different than offering a critique or voicing a complaint. The latter two are about specific issues, whereas the former is an attack on your partner at the core of their character. In effect, you’re dismantling their whole being when you criticise.

The important thing here is to learn the difference between expressing a complaint and criticising. Here are 2 examples:

Complaint: “I was scared when you were running late and didn’t call me. I thought we had agreed that we would do that for each other?”
Criticism: “You never think about how your behaviour is affecting other people. I don’t believe you are that forgetful, you’re just selfish. You never think of others! You never think of me!”

So, the ANTIDOTE to criticism is to complain without blame.

Talk about your feelings by using “I” statements and expressing a positive need. Avoid using “you” statements and expressing a negative judgment, which will make your partner feel attacked.
Also behind criticism is often a wish:
You never take me to the movies anymore!
Meaning “I want us to go to the movies together”

You’re lazy and do nothing around the house, you just make a mess!
Meaning “Help me clean up.”

The 2nd Horseman is Contempt, contempt is the worst of the 4 Horsemen as it’s the most destructive, negative behaviour we express in relationships.

The target of our contempt is made to feel despised and worthless. In whatever form, contempt is poisonous to a relationship because it conveys disgust and superiority, especially moral and ethical, or attacks a person’s character.

The antidote to contempt is to build appreciation and respect by regularly expressing gratitude and affection for our partner, along with fondness and admiration. Remember the good times, and also remember the tough times where, together, you pushed through and succeeded.

You’ll create a positive perspective in your relationship that acts as a buffer for negative feelings. The more positive you feel, the less likely that you’ll feel the need to express contempt!

The 3rd Horseman is Defensiveness, and it’s typically a response to criticism. Unfortunately, this strategy is almost never successful. Our excuses just tell our partner that we don’t take their concerns seriously and that we won’t take responsibility for our actions.

The antidote to defensiveness is to take responsibility for our role in the issue and express an interest in trying to understand our partner’s feelings.

The 4th Horseman is Stonewalling. Rather than confronting the issue, someone who is stonewalling will be totally unresponsive, making evasive manoeuvres such as tuning out, turning away, acting busy, or engaging in obsessive behaviours. They may even storm out of the room!

When couples stonewall, they’re under a lot of emotional pressure, which increases heart rate, thoughts get muddled, even foggy, stress hormones are released into the bloodstream, and can even trigger a fight-or-flight response. This is known as ‘flooding’.

The antidote to stonewalling and managing flooding respectfully, is to acknowledge our emotional state, take a 20-minute break to go away, and change our physiological state so we can calm down.

When we return, we’re in a much better state to finish the conversation.

Thanks for watching and I hope you found this helpful in understanding how The 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse can derail relationships, and the steps we can take to manage them when they show up!

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