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relationship advice

Handling feedback

Give and receive feedback affectionately

Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse   

The way two people give each other feedback and the way they handle differences of opinion, problems and difficulties are critical in a couple's relationship. They are also critical in family relationships, work relationships, and relationships between friends.

People in successful relationships have high standards and expectations of each other and they do not put up with poor behavior. When they have a problem, they try to solve it by throwing it around in a good-natured manner like two people playing beach ball.

Successful couples give and receive feedback and manage disagreements and differences of opinion with respect, tenderness, humor and affection.

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

According to John Gottman, there are four things that you must avoid doing when giving feedback, communicating dissatisfaction, or having an argument or disagreement. John Gottman calls these the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.


Criticism. First, when you are unhappy about some aspect of your partner's behavior, don't express it as a criticism of your partner's personality. You are unlikely to resolve a problem by telling your partner that they are, for example, selfish, uncommunicative, unsociable, lazy etc.

Contempt. Second, don't say things that indicate that you feel better or superior to your partner. Showing contempt and condescension by saying things like "You're so stupid." will lead you to separate and divorce. Contempt is bad for a relationship because it communicates dislike for your partner. Research also shows that people who are contemptuous of each other are more likely to suffer from infectious illnesses such as flu and colds than other people.

Defensiveness. Third, avoid being defensive and over-reacting when your partner complains or says they are unhappy about something. Try to see things from their perspective and find constructive feedback in what they are saying even if the feedback has not been delivered very tactfully.

When a person thinks that their partner is always getting at them, they miss useful feedback and it then becomes very hard to learn and improve. It is also hard to be around someone who is highly defensive as people feel they have to tread on eggshells the whole time so as not to upset them.

Stonewalling. Fourth, avoid stonewalling--for example, rolling your eyes, turning away and saying little or nothing at all. When you are receiving feedback, show your partner that you are listening. Don't withdrawal emotionally from the conversation. Individuals in thriving relationships embrace feedback and criticism in order to work through their differences and improve their relationship.

  Rubber Band Snap Exercise
  Use this technique when you find yourself or your partner exhibiting criticism, contempt, defensiveness, or stonewalling. 

1. Wear a rubber band on one of your wrists and suggest to your partner that they do the same.

2. Whenever one of you displays one of The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse behaviors, you should snap your band and try to rephrase what you want to say in a different way.

3. You can also use this technique to snap yourself out of negative thinking about your relationship. Whenever you have a negative thought, snap the rubber band and replace the negative thought straightaway with a positive one.

4. Sportspeople use this mental skills technique to counter anxiety and negative thinking about their performance.