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How do you communicate?

21st May 2022. Reading Time: 4 minutes Communication, Conflict Resolution. 748 page views.

Communication is the most important thing in any relationship in our lives, but when it comes to our closest relationships it really is everything.

Communication is the most important thing in any relationship in our lives, but when it comes to our closest relationships it really is everything. The tone of our communication, both verbal and non-verbal, sets the mood and the tone for our lives and the lives of those around us. Particularly in our homes, the tone of your communication colours the atmosphere and leaves a lasting imprint for you and your family.

Loving and respectful communication means a loving and respectful environment, bringing peace and calm to the home and all who live there.

Dr John Gottman is an American psychologist, professor emeritus of psychology at the University of Washington, who has worked for over four decades on divorce prediction and marital stability. He has devised a theory that effectively predicts the chances of a couple separating or divorcing. The theory is based on how couples communicate with one another. Dr Gottman names four negative communication types that are precursors to separation and divorce. He has named them the Four Horsemen, after the four horsemen of the apocalypse.

In this analogy, criticism is the first horseman. It’s never helpful to criticise your partner’s character. There may be times where it’s necessary to complain about something, but it’s important to do this without turning it into a personal attack on the other person.

Contempt is the second horseman, and it’s a sneaky one. It’s meaner than criticism as it implies that you are morally superior to your partner and you are critiquing them from your superior position. This can manifest as ridicule, mockery or sarcastic comments.

The third horseman is defensiveness, which is often a response to criticism, whether real or perceived. Defensiveness may look like finding excuses and blaming others which does not help to build a healthy communication style.

The fourth horseman is stonewalling, which can be a response to contempt, again this may be real or perceived. Stonewalling is when you shut down and check out of communicating with your partner and/or other family members.


All of these communication styles can be extremely damaging to those on the receiving end. It becomes impossible to build trust and true intimacy in an atmosphere that is characterised by criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling. All of these communication styles are designed to protect yourself and prevent anyone from becoming close to you. It’s also a way of maintaining power and control and ensuring that you remain in the driver’s seat in your relationship- you have a way of shutting down your partner or family so that you are always in the right.

If you’d like to know more about communicating in a respectful way, here are some guidelines that may be helpful:

  • Being aware of the amount of space you’re taking up or how close you are to the other person when you’re speaking.
  • Don’t interrupt when others are speaking. Let them finish what they’re saying- if they pause, wait a moment as they might not be finished. They might be catching their breath or gathering their thoughts.
  • Become a good listener. Active listening is not a passive activity. It means staying open to what others are saying and resisting the urge to edit or censor things that you may not want to hear.
  • Giving and receiving support. If we can consider the needs of others and see the bigger picture of what needs to be achieved, it’s possible to work with our partners and/or families rather than against them. The ability to make others feel heard and understood is the key to respectful relationships.
  • Don’t rush to give answers and solutions- don’t become a Mr Fix It. While sharing our ideas, beliefs and potential solutions are important, the process of resolving the issue is the critical aspect. No one enjoys having solutions forced upon them. Giving everyone a chance to have their say and coming to a joint agreement is another way to promote mutual respect within the relationship.
  • No put-downs- try not to resort to using any of the Four Horsemen in your communication. These will only make the situation worse and build resentment.
  • Challenging others’ oppressive behaviour. We all need to take responsibility for behaviour that we know is harmful to others. If you see others acting in destructive ways, point it out.

These are some concrete examples of how to replace the Four Horsemen style of communicating with those who are the closest to you. To embrace these new ways of being with others will make a huge difference to your own sense of self, as well as to how others perceive you. And it will contribute to creating a loving and happy home environment- something that is good for ourselves and our loved ones.

If this article is interesting to you, you may wish to learn more about what makes Heavy M.E.T.A.L. a unique program. We go beyond teaching the basics of behavioural change and we offer two further phases for participants who are wanting to build on the foundation created in Phase 1.  Phase 2 focuses on how to create positive interactions and is aimed at improving relationships with your loved ones. Phase 3, the Grounded and Balanced (G.A.B.) Program, is all about creating and maintaining emotional balance so you can cope with whatever comes your way. All of this is based on learning new and better communication skills- it’s the key to a happy and peaceful life, both for you and those around you. Click on the link if you’d like to know more: