Criticism: Attacking or criticizing one's partner. People who fall for this temptation do not seem to understand the difference between a complaint (a statement about wanting something to change) and a criticism (a statement about wanting someone to change).
- Complaint: "I don't like it when you say you will finish the dishes and then I see they are still in the sink. I want you to do what you say you will."
- Criticism: "You promised you would finish the dishes and you didn't. You just can't be trusted. You don't respect me if you lie to me like that."
Defensiveness: Doggedly battling every complaint from the partner. People who fall into this temptation seem to believe that to agree when someone criticizes them or complains about their behavior would be to lose something irreplaceable. They don't seem to be able to see or admit to any imperfection in themselves.
- Agree whenever you can: "I hate to admit it, but you may be right about me spending too much time at work. I don't know just what I can do about it, though."
- Defensiveness: "How can you say I spend too much time at work? I do what I have to do to support this family. Do you want to take over my job?"
Contempt: Global criticism of the partner, showing disrespect, sarcasm. People who fall into this temptation seem to be carried away by their anger at the partner. When they show contempt, they are saying the partner has no value as a person. They don't seem to be able to talk about their own anger without attacking and demeaning the partner.
- Own the anger: "When you criticize me like you just did, I feel very angry and discouraged about communicating with you."
- Show contempt: "You criticize me? Hah, what have you ever done that is constructive. You better look at yourself, buster!"
Stonewalling: Ignoring, withdrawing, and refusing to talk to the partner or try to negotiate. Stonewalling is "giving the silent treatment" or in other words, silent contempt. Distinguish this from healthy time out or breaks which help both partners get some perspective. The stonewaller implies the partner is unworthy of discussion; the time-out procedure suggests the listener needs a break.These love killers can be defeated with patience, compassion, and determination. Sometimes a small change in one partner can derail the negative pattern and eventually bring about a positive solution. Listen with respect whether the partner "deserves" respect or not; forgive and start again even if the partner doesn't "deserve" forgiveness; try to have more good times than bad, even if the partner doesn't "deserve" good treatment. Make up your mind that your marriage will not fail!
- Take a time out when you need to, announce your intent: "This discussion is too intense for me. I need to take a break before I say something I will regret. I'd like to go for a walk and cool down, and we can discuss this in a half hour from now."
- Stonewall: "Yeah, sure, you are right. You always are. I gotta go." (Leaves for a half hour.)
Research into successful marriages found that people with the happiest marriages did not (to the surprise of the researchers) necessarily fight less. In the successful marriage was at least one partner who knew how to self sooth when discussions got too intense.
The self-soothing person has a habit of talking optimistically and compassionately to herself or himself. Where a person might say, "What's wrong with him? He's just being a selfish jerk!" in response to someone being rude, the resilient person would say, "The poor guy must be having a bad day. I wonder what has gone wrong for him?"
Psychologists now call this an optimistic approach to life, one that always sees the good in oneself and in others. Optimistic people are resilient, they bounce back from defeats quicker and keep going longer than others. Their self-talk, the conversations they have with themselves in their heads, focuses on positive ways of interpreting situations.
Good News/Bad News The bad news is that moods are the result of extremely automatic habits that happen so fast that we usually believe that our moods are caused by events, not by our own self-talk.
The good news is that even though the habits are very quick and automatic, they can be changed. While it takes a good deal of work, you can train yourself to have resilient thinking habits.
And the even better news is that once you are in a habit of thinking resiliently, your life and relationships are much more stress free than you would have imagined possible. You see answers where there were just questions, and solutions where there were problems.