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Case Study intro

To further examine the impact of healthy and unhealthy conflict strategies in couple relationships, let’s take a look at a fictional case study to see the story of how conflict plays out for a couple we’ll call Tanya and Tim.

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The Four Horsemen

Taken together, Criticism, Contempt, Defensiveness, and Stonewalling have a seriously negative impact on couple relationships, and Gottman’s research suggest that they can begin to create a negative cycle that becomes very difficult for couples to escape. So, if you notice any of these patterns becoming a regular occurrence in your interactions with your partner,

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Stonewalling

The final Horseman is Stonewalling. Stonewalling involves removing yourself from a conflict situation, either physically or emotionally. Physically, this might mean walking out, with no promise of when you’ll return. Emotionally, someone might just simply check out of a conversation, by not listening or by turning one’s attention to someone else.

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Defensiveness

The third horseman is Defensiveness. Defensiveness happens when one or both partners don’t listen to one another’s concerns, but rather they meet any concerns with attacks of their own. So, again, if one partner says, “I was upset that you left dirty dishes in the sink,” their defensive partner’s response might say,

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Contempt

Second, Gottman described Contempt as a toxic force on couple relationships. Contempt is described by Gottman as insults and psychological abuse. When someone acts contemptuously toward their partner, they make their partner feel about an inch tall. Contempt can come in the form of making fun of your partner, but also in partner’s nonverbals,

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Criticism

“The first horseman is Criticism. This means that one partner makes global statements that put down the other person or attack their character. So, instead of saying, “I was upset that you left dirty dishes in the sink,” a partner engaging in criticism might say, “You are always such a slob!” Criticism is toxic for couples because of the extent of negativity it infuses into a relationship.

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Introducing the Four Horsemen

Now, let’s talk about some more about the research in this area. Earlier, we discussed some of the important aspects of healthy conflict in couple relationships. There are also some important pitfalls to avoid. Dr. John Gottman is one of the most well-known marriage researchers, and he devoted his career to studying and understanding couple relationships.

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