What are the causes of a toxic relationship?
Relationship problems are common...And sometimes you have them over and over and over.
Now there is a lot of good research on relationship pathology. So who can provide answers to fatal relationship challenges?
Dr. John Gottman is an established researcher who offers his expertise in the area of couple communication.
You might remember him as the researcher who, after just a few minutes, could predict whether a couple would end up divorced.
John is a professor emeritus at the University of Washington and co-founder of the Gottman Institute. He’s published over 190 papers and authored more than 40 books, including:
The Four Horsemen Of The Relationship Apocalypse
John has studied thousands of couples over his 40-year career. Four things came up, again and again, that indicated a relationship was headed for trouble. Some couples did them a lot and some others avoided them:
This is when someone points to their partner and says their personality or character is the problem. Here’s John:
Criticism is staging the problem in a relationship as a character flaw in a partner. People who don't do criticism point a finger at themselves and they really have a very gentle way of starting up the discussion, minimizing the problem and talking about what they feel and what they need.
Ladies, are you listening? Because criticism is something women do a lot more than men. (Don’t worry, we’ll get to how the guys screw up soon enough.)
This is responding to relationship issues by counterattacking or whining. Here’s John:
The second horseman was defensiveness which is a natural reaction to being criticized. It takes two forms: counterattacking or acting like an innocent victim and whining. Again, people who communicate well were very different even when their partner was critical. They accepted the criticism, or even took responsibility for part of the problem. They said, “Talk to me, I want to hear how you feel about this.”
It’s the #1 predictor of breakups. Contempt is acting like you’re a better person than they are. Here’s John:
Contempt is talking down to their partner. Being insulting or acting superior. Not only did it predict relationship breakup, but it predicted the number of infectious illnesses that the recipient of contempt would have in the next four years when we measured health.
It’s shutting down or tuning out. It passively tells your partner, “I don’t care.” And 85% of the time it’s guys who do this. It includes the silent treatment and a dismissive attitude that doesn't yield easily to empathy or connection.
NOW, if we were to have a conversation with John Gottman, would you be curious to hear his opinion? I mean, the two last pillars for relationship destruction: contempt and stonewalling he describes are almost the perfect description for passive aggression!
Even when we can attribute contempt to old fashioned machista attitudes of male superiority, what seals the rejection is the cold shoulder. It demonstrates immediately that their contempt ("you are inferior to me") joined to ("you don't deserve my connecting with you").
By using Gottman's theory applied to passive-aggressive behavior, we can see that this is a kind of pathology that is very frequent and very toxic. We have explained here the possible generation of this pathology in a childhood insecure attachment with important figures in the family.
Even then, here we see that the continuous impact of Contempt and Stonewalling in a relationship is lethal for its future.
If you recognize this aspect of contempt in your own relationship, let's talk. Don't let this negative aspect destroy trust and affection. We can provide support and solutions to help you and your spouse manage negativity and change it into sincere cooperation. I'm inviting you to post your comment and needs below, and I'll answer personally with my suggestions.