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Communication patterns will save your relationship. As a relationship counsellor my role is to assess the relationship, understand the origin and nature of the relationship. Exploration of the attachment styles of the individuals their unconscious learned relationship patterns from parents/grandparents or other other relationship influences is also required. I attempt to understand the glue that holds the relationship as well as the cause of and duration of the underlying challenges and tensions they present with. Evaluation of communication styles are key in understanding the route that will assist the couple navigate their way around their challenges; or to assist with the termination of the relationship in a way that causes the least long-term psychological or emotional harm to either party.

A client recently asked me “How long is it advised to stay in therapy before it’s fair to end the marriage?” The answer to the recently posed question depends on the evaluation and interplay between the above factors, as well as to understand their emotional grit or emotional intelligence of the couple, individual and collective reasons for attending relationship counselling and what they want out of the relationship and/or the counselling.  Time reveals their willingness to consciously work on the interventions required to restore the relationship.

While there are many reasons that could bring and end to the relationship many of them can be worked through, again depending on any combination of the above factors and the commitment to the relationship and each other. While every person is unique and every relationship may have challenges years of research from John Gottman ( has identified what they have termed the four horsemen of the apocalypse, styles of communication, that if not addressed could bring about the end of your relationship. Fortunately, there is an antidote for them.


Communication patterns and their antidotes could save your relationship

Criticism attacks character of the recipient instead of focussing on a specific behaviour. The antidote is to talk about your feelings, using I statements, express a positive need.

Contempt is an expression of superiority that comes out as sarcasm, cynicism, name calling, eye rolling, sneering, mockery, hostile humour and is the greatest predictor of relationship failure. The antidote is to treat each other with respect, build a culture of appreciation within the relationship.

Defensiveness is self-protection through righteous indignation or playing the victim and is really an underhanded way of blaming your partner. The antidote is to accept responsibility, even if only for part of the conflict.

Stonewalling occurs when the listener withdraws from the conversation without resolving anything. It takes time for the negativity from the first three horsemen to result in stonewalling, but when it does it can become a habit. The antidote is to break for 20 minutes, calm down and return to the conversation.

The above horsemen can easily be brushed off as responses in the heat of the moment. The scary thing is that they become habits that can destroy the relationship without you being aware of it.