"A pure and lasting relationship, has fights, has trust, has faith, has tears, has hurt, has laughter and has weird stupid and unnecessary arguments." Kemmy Nola

"You are so stubborn!"
"Whenever there is a problem you always blame me!"
"I've never been able to pursue my career it's always your career first!"
"I just can't stand to look at you!"

Have you ever said any of these things to your partner or has your partner ever said any of these things to you? If your answer is yes, then, you are not alone. These are also known as The Four Horsemen:

  1. Criticize (Attack)
  2. Defensive
  3. Contempt
  4. Stonewalling

Defensive behavior is ruining your relationship. The four horsemen are the biggest predictor of divorce in a relationship, and they also aren't good for the children. Communication is important in a relationship, but how you communicate is really what is important. Not only can your words be defensive, but your tone and body language can also be defensive. Remember, it's not what you say but how you say it. Here are five strategies to help change your defensive behavior:

  1. Complain without blame. When you start a conflict discussion with your partner by using "you" statements, and blaming your partner for the problems in the relationship, this will put them on the defense. Try rephrasing your words. Use "I" statements. Start the conversation by stating how you feel and then stating what you need. For example, I feel annoyed when you don't help out around the house. I need you to help with the dishes at night. This helps set a more positive tone for the conversation.
  2. Thanksgiving and appreciations. This is one of those small things that will make a big difference. Let your partner know when you are thankful. Be specific, thank you for listening to me last night, I know you had a lot to do. Let your partner know you appreciate them. This is another time where it helps to be specific. I appreciate your sense of humor and that you try to cheer me up when I am feeling down. This is really something you can never do enough in a relationship.
  3. Take a break. You don't have to solve your problems right away. The Gottman's research has found that 69% of problems in a relationship aren't solvable. What does this mean, build a culture of understanding in your relationship. Agree to take at least a 20 minute break during a conflict discussion. During this time you don't think about your partner or what you are upset about. Agree to come back and talk about your disagreements respectfully.
  4. Stop comparing your relationship to others. This is something we have all done at one time or another. No relationship is perfect. Strive for your relationship to be good enough. It's easy in our culture to expect perfection. In reality no one has it.
  5. Think fondly of your partner while they are away. It's easy to get carried away with your thoughts, and think of all the bad times in your relationship. Think about why you married your partner, out of all the people out there why did you choose your partner? After being in a relationship for a while it's easy to focus on the negative. Think of five things that you love about your partner and stay focused on those thoughts for the day.


Yes, I am asking you to look at how you communicate. Choose your words with one another, and change the dialogue you use towards one another. After a while this will feel like the natural way to communicate with your partner and you will start to enjoy one another's company again.

Lianne Avila is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist with a practice in San Mateo, CA. She has been trained to use The Gottman Method for Couples. For more information please go to, www.LessonsforLove.com.

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1510 Fashion Island Blvd.
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San Mateo, CA 94404

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