7 Relationship Master Skills to Overcome

7 Relationship Master Skills to Overcome Disasters

“Friendship fuels the flames of romance, because it offers the best protection against feeling adversarial toward your spouse.” – John Gottman

This episode outlines the 4 disasters of relationships and the 7 master skills to overcome them based on the work of Dr. John Gottman, an expert in the field of marriage research. Challenges in marriage and relationships are a given and can easily overwhelm us, especially if we’re left without some practical help and advice. We can all relate to feelings of contempt and times where we’ve been critical of our partners—2 of the 4 disasters that can really hurt a relationship—the good news is that we CAN change the course of our relationships.

The Four Horsemen of Relationship Apocalypse

Perhaps one of the most famous ideas from Gottman’s work is that of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, which are criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling. These are the four items that really destroy a relationship at its core. Those who Gottman calls “disasters” use them often and refuse to make changes.

  1. Criticism is attacking your partner’s personality or character to prove them wrong. Criticism is the opposite of intimacy and closeness.
  2. Contempt is attacking your partner’s sense of self and looking down on them. Contempt is sulfuric acid for love and it destroys relationships. It also negatively impacts your physical health. When the body is in fight and flight mode the central nervous system and the defense systems are shut down to focus on the fight and to survive. Gottman found that the amount of contempt in one’s life directly correlates with how sick a person will be in the next 4 years.

One important pointer is that if you think your spouse is using contempt, do yourself a favor and look at yourself as well because contempt is a contagious disease and we often rub off on one another.

  1. Defensiveness is seeing yourself as the victim
  2. Stonewalling is withdrawing from the relationship or conversation to avoid conflict. Stonewalling shows disapproval, distance, and disconnection.

Make it Better

As one can imagine, these 4 ingredients wreak havoc on one’s marriage and will only bring harm and disconnection. It is important to mobilize into action to actively fix these items. Gottman is able to watch a couple for less than 5 minutes and predict with 96% accuracy as to whether or not they will make it as a couple by looking at these 4 items.

The general solution is to take notice of these four disasters in your relationship and commit yourself to notice and to fix them. We all use some of the defences some of the time, but if they begin to permeate our relationship, this will make its negative mark quickly.

Here are the 7 Solutions to counter criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling:

  1. Share clear hurts and requests – “When you insulted me in public, I felt very sad and alone. I want you to tell me you’ll make an effort not to insult me in public again”
  2. Use a soft startup, start from a place of unarguable truth, and listen generously
  3. Shift to appreciation
  4. Claim responsibility for your part
  5. Rewrite your inner script – stop writing a horror novel for each interaction with your spouse.
  6. Practice becoming non-defensive
  7. Help your partner reach their dreams

I want to share a humorous story about Dr. Gottman’s quest in 2000 to publish one of his books. He went to New York to make it happen. After several rejections, expecting many more, John ended up with one publishing executive who was very skeptical. He said “These type of books are not very popular, but anyway, let me ask you, my wife and I are having a hard time, give me some advice in 30 seconds so that I can improve my relationship.” Dr. Gottman thought quickly and replied “Honor your wife’s dreams.” The man simply turned around and left the meeting. John gathered his belongings and left another failed proposal.  A few days later he got the call saying he got the contract. The executive told Dr. Gottman that he was stumped and so he went straight home on the next train.

The executive walked in the house and his wife asked, “What happened, were you fired?” “No,” he replied, “I came home to ask you what your dreams are so that I can honor them. I realize that I don’t even know what they are?!” At first she was shocked, but the conversation continued and was very productive. It actually set the tone for some powerful connection and changes. The book was then published and well received.

Dr. Gottman noted that although he was put on the spot, he stands behind that advice and has seen it turn around many relationships.

Key Ideas

  1.     The 4 disasters WILL destroy your marriage; so take notice of whether or not they are present in your relationship.
  2.     The solution is to start a conversation from a soft place with your unarguable truths—this sets you and your partner up for success.
  3.     Always look at yourself FIRST, before confronting your partner about how they treat you.

Resources Mentioned:

  •     Dr. John Gottman – An expert in relationships and marriage research
  •      Download PDF – A PDF summary of the 4 Disasters and 7 Masters Skills by Joseph Tropper

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