With the divorce rate often reported at 50%, it becomes ever more important to focus on the behaviors that keep a positive feeling between you and your romantic partner or spouse and refrain from the behaviors that damage that lovin’ feeling.

John Gottman the noted marriage expert talks about four horsemen that degrade the positive feeling between two people. These include blame, stonewalling, defensiveness and contempt.

These four behaviors are guaranteed to increase negative feelings and damage the relationship. If you find that you are engaging in these behaviors, it is vital to decrease your reliance on them.

Let’s look at some ways to understand, manage, and reduce each.
Blame – assigning fault to another. When we blame others, it becomes important to ask the question of ourselves, have we communicated our own needs and can the other person deliver on what we need. Sometimes we expect more of our partner than what is reasonable. Or we blame them for something they don’t even know about. In relationships there is mutual responsibility. Where do you hold responsibility?
Stonewalling – refusing to answer. Stonewalling can include such behaviors as withdrawing from the conversation, being silent, storming out of the room. When we stonewall, we disengage and refuse to participate in discussion. While postponing the conversation might be a good tactic to diffuse the tension, constant stonewalling means you don’t want to engage. Even if you are in a state where you don’t feel you can talk, it is best to say, I can’t talk about this right now but let’s get to a calmer state and we will talk about it in the next two days (give a time period that is reasonable).
Defensiveness – challenging or avoiding criticism - comes in when we feel threatened and feel the need to protect ourselves. If you are feeling defensive, ask yourself the question, what is your part in this situation that you don’t feel you can admit to.
Contempt – feeling that a person is beneath consideration or worthless. Showing contempt, that you do not respect your partner is truly a damaging approach. It is corrosive and a sure fire way to send the message, I don’t like or love you anymore.

Even though contempt is particularly corrosive, engaging in any or several of these toxic behaviors regularly, will wear down your partner and damage the feelings of intimacy and love.

Here are some tips to pull back from these behaviors:
• Examine your own needs and be clear about who can meet them. Sometimes we expect our partners to meet all of our needs and that is unrealistic. Are there friends, relatives or colleagues who can meet needs that your partner might not be well suited for such as interest in certain activities or hobbies.

• If you are feeling defensive, where can you admit some responsibility? In a relationship, it is important to be vulnerable. If you cannot be vulnerable, what do you need in the form of assurances or tone etc. You can ask your partner to phrase criticism in a way that you can better receive it. If you don’t like criticism at all, what do you need to do to be better at receiving feedback as this is a core skill for life.

• If your partner concedes a point, are you acknowledging it? John Gottman talks about repair bids - that is when your partner is reaching out to you, trying to diffuse the tension, offering an olive branch, cracking a joke. Make sure you receive the repair bid. If you refuse, you are sending the message, this relationship cannot be repaired and it is short path to divorce.

For more information visit my website at http://www.ahasolutions.org

Author's Bio: 

Judy Tso is a noted social scientist, diversity consultant, speaker and coach. She has been helping individuals and organizations bridge and connect across differences for the last 15 years. She holds a BS from the Wharton School and Masters degree in Applied Anthropology from the University of Maryland. She is a member of the National Speakers Association and the International Coach Federation.