Couples tell me all the time, "We just can't communicate." I work with couples to help them identify what is standing in the way of them connecting. Gottman's research tells us that the Four Horsemen are typically where a couple is stuck in their communicating.
Criticism - Criticism implies there is something wrong with your partner, that he or she is defective. This may include blame, name-calling and a general character assassination. Criticizing your partner is different than offering a critique or voicing a complaint. Remember, a criticism is an attack.
Contempt - To be contemptuous is to put your partner down or to speak with scorn. It happens when you feel and act superior. Contempt stems from a negative habit of mind, in which you scan the environment looking for your partner’s mistakes, rather than what you can appreciate about him or her.
Stonewalling - Stonewalling occurs when you withdraw from the interaction while staying physically present. Research shows that stonewalling elevates your heart rate and releases stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. When this happens, it is nearly impossible to listen, think creatively and solve the problem constructively.
Defensiveness - Defensiveness is an attempt to protect yourself, to defend your innocence, to ward off a perceived attack.
I work with couples to communicate differently when they are heated, flooded, and feeling overwhelmed with each other. I also help them improve the positives. When is the last time you had a ritual of connection? Or knew the details of your partner's day? Gottman's research tells us that building up the positive encounters is just as important for a strong relationship as working on the negatives.