Why do some relationships work, and others fail? Why are some couples great at communicating and others not so much? Four main behaviours act as barriers to communication: Criticism, Contempt, Defensiveness and Stonewalling.
Dr John Gottman called them the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse. We've put a different spin on them and modernised it. The Four Villains of Communication impact your relationships, marriages and work relationships. These destructive patterns of communication in the way of honest reflection, destroy connection and intimacy and make your relationships bound for disaster.
1. Poison Mary: Mistress of Criticism
Poison Mary is a volatile and memorable character, just like criticism. She uses words as a weapon to attack her victims. She will attack you for any perceived failures and mistakes. Verbal attacks and criticism cut us to the core and put us on the defensive.
Here are some signs of criticism:
- Using ‘always’ and ‘never’ in statements
- Giving feedback intended to harm you, not help you
- Needs are bottled up
- Using ‘you’ statements, pointing away from themselves
Criticism is toxic in any relationship, so it is vital to deal with it effectively.
How to Parley with Poison Mary
Focusing on the positive is the key to escaping attacks from Poison Mary. Criticism jabs at your weaknesses, so embrace them.
Talk about how you feel by using ‘I’ statements. Share what you need without pointing blame. Ask to have your needs met respectfully. Stick to the facts and don't make it a personal attack.
Critical Communication: "You never listen to what I say. You are always on your stupid phone!"
Positive Communication: "I feel like you don't hear me when you look at your phone while I'm talking. I need to feel heard to feel loved. Do you mind making eye contact while I talk about my day?"
2. The Pen: The King of Contempt
The Pen is power-hungry, controlling and thinks he's better than everyone else. He gets angered by anyone who gets in his way. That’s contempt; the feeling that someone is worth less and is below you.
Contempt is a relationship killer and sours your connections. Gottman found that contempt is the highest predictor of divorce.
Signs of contempt include:
- Eye rolling
- Dismissing other's feelings or experiences
- Repeated interruptions
It's easy to spot someone’s contempt for you. It's more challenging to notice when you’re feeling contempt for another.
How to Push Past the Pen
When Bratman battled with the Pen, he was able to overcome his contempt, and so can you. The most effective way to combat contempt for others is gratitude.
It may sound lame but create a habit of appreciation. Express gratitude, respect and appreciation through feedback and praise. Focus on positives and deal with concerns in a constructive way.
Here are some other ways to demonstrate appreciation:
- Sharing interests
- Finding similarities
- Showing affection
3. The Jokestar: Mr Defensiveness
The Jokestar is a master of defensiveness. He knows how to avoid blame by redirecting it elsewhere.
Many people respond to conflict with defensiveness. It's how they learned to survive in communication, but it can be toxic and make you as crazy as the Jokestar.
Some signs of defensiveness are:
- Not taking responsibility
- Blaming others
- Rationalising behaviour
Let's take responsibility for how we act and behave in communication and figure out how to move past the villainy of defensiveness.
How to Joust with the Jokestar
Listen to the perspective of others. Take responsibility for your role and accept blame where deserved. It can be confronting, but accepting responsibility is one of the best ways to resolve conflict.
Defensive: "It's not my fault I was late. My partner didn't do laundry yesterday, and I had to do it this morning."
Non-defensive: "I'm really sorry we didn't have time to stop for coffee. I was late, and I'll make sure this doesn't happen again."
Acknowledging and apologising can help to de-escalate a situation. There may still be tension and conflict, but you will be able to communicate better to deal with it.
4. Capwoman: The Queen of Stonewalling
Capwoman has feline-like skills help her to evade and escape Bratman. Stonewalling is the same thing. Stonewallers might physically leave situations or stop paying attention as if they have shut down. It typically happens when emotions are running high.
There are some warning signs to be wary of before conversations reach this point. These include:
- Rising heartbeat
- Aching head or stomach
- Tensing of muscles
- Quickening of breath or heavy chest breathing
- Feeling overwhelmed
What would you do if someone you cared about completely withdrew from the conversation? What if you shut down and withdrew from the conversation? How would these people feel if you snubbed them?
How to Combat the Capwoman
When the avoiding powers of Catwoman rear up, it's a sign you need a break. If you find yourself stonewalling, or being stonewalled, there is no space for productive communication. Taking a break and allowing time to focus, recollect and self-soothe is vital.
Tell the other person you need a break from the conversation. Use 'I' language. Say something like, "I'm feeling upset, and I need a short break. I'm going to take half an hour alone, and I'll be ready to talk again".
Then, do something calming. You should last at least 20 minutes and come back when you are ready to reengage.
Fight Your Villains for Successful Relationships
Bratman needs to use all of the skills in his arsenal when he takes on these villains. These skills take time and practice to master. You may have to try entirely new ways of communicating. That isn't easy, but it's worth it. All you need is a willingness to have your relationships grow and succeed.
If you or someone you know finds it difficult to communicate in relationships, our Perth location offers relationship counselling. You can easily book an appointment with us online at our booking page or call for a more personal touch.