« Intervention | Main | Emotions as Weapons: Anger and Bullying and Family Violence »


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Referring to Gottman's study of the factors which are most predictive of divorce, I think it's crucial to include contempt. I'm not entirely fond of Gottman (for instance he completely under-reports and underestimates the prevalance of female-perpetrated violence and aggression), but on the issue of contempt I'm in complete agreement. From my own experience contempt (and condescension &/or derision)are absolute no-no's, and are often used to provoke violence and then sit back and 'play-the-victim'. And, I don't believe this is restricted to any particular gender.

From Gottman's website - Research FAQ:

"9. What are the negative behavior patterns that can predict divorce?

Dr. Gottman calls these destructive behaviors, “A Positive-to-Negative Ratio of 0.8 or Less,” and has named the most corrosive negative behavior patterns, “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.” Specifically, these are:

Criticism: stating one’s complaints as a defect in one’s partner’s personality, i.e., giving the partner negative trait attributions. Example: “You always talk about yourself. You are so selfish.”

Contempt: statements that come from a relative position of superiority. Contempt is the greatest predictor of divorce and must be eliminated. Example: “You’re an idiot.”

Defensiveness: self-protection in the form of righteous indignation or innocent victim-hood. Defensiveness wards off a perceived attack. Example: “It’s not my fault that we’re always late; it’s your fault.”

Stonewalling: emotional withdrawal from interaction. Example: The listener does not give the speaker the usual nonverbal signals that the listener is “tracking” the speaker.

These predict early divorcing – an average of 5.6 years after the wedding. Emotional withdrawal and anger predict later divorcing – an average of 16.2 years after the wedding."

Hi Just,

Excellent points, eloquently stated. Thank you so much for sharing. I think you (and Gottman) are both right about contempt as a predictor.

I would also like to thank you for comments on female aggression. I don't want to minimize the power disparity inherent between males and females in a patriarchal society. In my opinion, this continues to be a serious problem which needs to be addressed. However, I am disturbed when I go to a domestic violence conference and only see male aggression and violence against females addressed - as if this is the sole form of domestic violence. I have seen relationships in which the woman terrorizes or abuses the man and I wish this would also be addressed. Violence can be perpetrated by either gender and is equally wrong.

Thank you for your comments.

Thank you Kellen,and thank you for your original post.

There is another post I'm hoping you'll consider writing that is sorely needed for those of us who grew up in abusive homes where appropriate conflict resolution was never modelled: how to fight fair when your partner isn't - at the moment.

It's one thing to follow the above rules when both parties have agreed to and are following them. It's another thing entirely to know how to be a fair and reasonable (and decent) human being and still protect yourself and your boundaries when you're faced with someone who isn't fighting fair.

I'm not speaking about fighting with someone who clearly has an abusive, manipulative agenda. I'm speaking of fighting with those people who've grown up with abuse and want (at least on some level) to do better, but have been primed through myriad past experiences to respond with emotion when triggered. For their partners (as well as themselves) I think learning skills of diplomacy *during high conflict situations* is what is needed. I think this is true for people who've grown up in abusive &/or dysfunctional homes in general.

I think the 'intermediate' period when couples are learning this skill (and I do believe that if you haven't grown up with it, fighting fair is a skill one has to acquire) is critically important. Until each person has mastered that skill one or both of the partners are likely to fall off the wagon (so to speak) from time to time and break the 'fighting fair' agreement. And in the early days each are likely to fall off more than not, I would imagine.

Gottman himself differentiated between pitbulls and cobras, and said that because pitbulls are incentivized partly by attachment, that many of those relationships could be saved through counselling and behaviour modification.

I'm not suggesting that following your list would be appropriate if you're attempting to fight fair with one of Gottman's true "pitbulls", but there are a lot of people who fall on the spectrum between those who fight fair, and pitbulls, simply due to lack of healthy skills combined with unhealthy modelling.

Really appreciate your site, and your articles.

BTW - I realize that you covered this in points 6, 7, and 8. I think what I'm asking for is to expand on that. In my experience, asking someone to negotiate and agree to how they will respond when they are in crisis, when they have never actually seen that done in a healthy way in practice, is a very difficult and error-prone endeavour. And failure at that point carries an extra load.

Growing up I had two models: my father and grandmother who, now that I look back on it, never fought. It was only ever a negotiation - no drama. 'Fighting fair' rules weren't really required. On the other side was my mother, who was an absolute tyrant - an extremely abusive person who controlled our household through threats, intimidation, manipulation and fear. Again, fair fighting rules weren't really required (could, matter of fact, get you killed). It took me quite some time to realize that I needed skills to negotiate with partners who aren't in either of those camps (which is pretty much everyone). People like, for instance, my younger brother who responded to the family dynamic with rages and acting out. And I found that fair fighting rules (which I searched for everywhere) just didn't help me enough in the clinch.

In addition to my own family experience I've led peer support self-help groups, and this is something I see as a very common problem.

There is a concept I've learned in swimming life-saving classes - never get too close to a panicking drowning person because they can take you down. However, if you stay just out of reach, face them but swim backwards, many of them will panic themselves to shore. Sometimes when people aren't fighting fair they are panicking rather than manipulating, and I'd find it helpful to get some tips to keep me from getting involved (so they can't take me down with them), and develop the presence of mind and skills to get us both to shore.

Hi Just, and where are YOU in all this caring? Have you thought of connecting only with those who are good for you? You seem like a person who deserves some good - just for you. Look beyond the rages and discover what they are getting from these actions.If I were you I would step back emotionally, offer advice and let them decide to save themselves when the time is right for them. You will be seen as a strong person, and consequently, your words and actions will carry greater respect.

Hi Kellen,

Thank you for this post - I wish I'd known this so many years ago, perhaps I wouldn't have suffered so much over the years, but then I wouldn't have had the need to find you - and I'm glad I did; so sometimes drama and sadness can be a good learning curve for us after all!

In the past few years I have often thought it would be good to discuss how to fight fair and use methods to resolve conflict in the early throws of a relationship and I particularly like the idea of postings on a refrigerator door - perhaps even post your daily feelings there if direct conversation is difficult at times.

Hi Just,

You make an excellent point. Trying to fight fair with someone who isn't can not only be futile, but even dangerous. At that point I think playing fair should be replaced by establishing healthy boundaries. If someone is going to resort to drama, raging, insults, etc. you may have to walk away.

You also asked an excellent question. Trying to negotiate during "high conflict situations". When emotions get this high negotiation becomes almost, if not completely, impossible. At that point it is important to walk away until everyone can calm down - then try to negotiate.

Your swimming analogy is a good one. It's interesting, a psychologist actually used that with me to teach me how to help people. I think the difference in this instance is that a drowning person is highly motivated to be saved. A person who is fightly unfairly may not be so motivated, especially if raging, manipulating, etc. has worked for them. If that is how they have gotten their way for most of their life they may be very reluctant to let go of that. You have to save yourself and leave them to drown in their own venom.

Hi Felix,

That's interesting. Someone asked me just this week what I would do differently and I almost started to answer that I would have skipped the difficult parts, the "drama and the sadness". But I hesitated and realized that without the pain I wouldn't appreciate what I have now and I wouldn't have grown and learned as much.

I appreciate what you are saying about learning fair fighting in the early stages of a relationship. I wish more people would seek help with relationship issues when they first arise rather than wait until so much hurt has been inflicted that there is almost no turning back.

Good idea about posting your feelings on the refrigerator!

dying in pain is welcomed or at least endured because it makes them feeler closer to Christ.

The comments to this entry are closed.