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  • Writer's pictureAmber Tucker, LMFT

Remedies for Toxic Communication

All relationships experience conflict. According to research, there are four communication pitfalls that predict the future of a relationship; Criticism, Contempt, Defensiveness, and Stonewalling (see my last blog about the Four Horsemen to learn more). The good news is that there are remedies for these common communication pitfalls.

1. Instead of using criticism and attacking your partner, researcher John Gottman, PhD suggests using a “gentle start up.” Using a gentle start up means using “I feel” statements and expressing your needs. For example, try saying, “I am feeling overwhelmed and need your help, can you lend me a hand when you are done with what you are doing?”

2. The solution to insulting your partner with contempt is to build a culture of appreciation. Contempt is fought off off by reminding yourself about your partner’s positive qualities and having gratitude for the positive parts of your relationship.

3. You can remedy defensiveness by taking responsibility and offering an apology for any mishaps. Listen to your partner’s perspective and practice empathy. Try saying, “I can hear how hurt you are and I am sorry that I was harsh with the kids. I understand why you are upset.”

4. Stonewalling happens when a person withdraws to avoid conflict. Rather than avoiding conflict, you can take a 20 minute break to practice physiological self-soothing. Take deep breaths, meditate, or watch TV to soothe and distract. Make time to come back to the issue when your heart and your thoughts are no longer racing.

If you recognize the Four Horsemen from your own relationship, try to become more aware of when it happens. This awareness paves the path for you to implement healthier communication; the antidotes! Remember, change takes time and sometimes extra support is needed. If you would like to learn about how couples counseling can facilitate change, take a look at my website ( for more information.

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