Communication is the cornerstone of all relationships, between friends, family, and romantic partners. So when that communication breaks down or falls into one of these four unhealthy patterns, it’s especially hard to keep a relationship moving forward and not getting stuck in a cycle of fighting. The best thing to do is to be aware of them so when you see you or your partner falling into one you can nip it right in the bud! Keep the lines of communication ope and your relationship with flourish. Criticism ● The first horseman, of course, is criticism. Criticism is the communication tactic of stating a problem as defect of the other person, something they’ve done wrong. For example, telling your boyfriend or girlfriend, husband or wife that they’re selfish simply because they forgot to call you back. As you can guess this type of communication isn’t helpful because it’s not addressing any real issue, it’s assigning blame without providing a way for both people to grow and be better together. When you criticize your partner (which is different than critiquing) what you’re doing is painting them into a corner where the only possible option is to fight or to back down completely. Defensiveness ● The natural reaction to criticism is defensiveness. When we’re criticized or blamed for something, we naturally become defensive as though we’re under attack. Again this doesn’t progress the disagreement or relationship forward, it paints both parties into conflicting corners where the only answer is a fight. Contempt ● Contempt is a little tricky to understand, so take it as a continuing back and forth disagreement. You criticize your partner, they become defensive, and then you respond with a statement from a superior place than your partner. For example responding to your pattern’s defensiveness with a dismissive statement such as “get over it,” or calling them a name. Stonewalling ● Stonewalling happens when one partner tuns out or withdraws from the conversation, which usually happens once contempt has entered the playing field or when one person becomes defensive. Now you might think that withdrawing from a disagreement and in essence letting the other person win would help, but winning isn’t what either person wants. Stonewalling is just as damaging and unhelpful as any of the other four horsemen. The best way to deal with all of these communication mishaps is, as I said, be aware of them. Understand that disagreements and even arguments will happen and so will these harmful communication methods. It’s not something to assign blame over (that’s one of the horsemen after all!) it’s simple to take a step back, recognize the communication pattern that’s happening, and work with your partner to move into a healthier method of talking out the issues, and possible what the real issues at hand are.