Complain vs. Criticize - Your wife or husband throws all of his or her clothes on the floor and at the end of the week, there is a huge pile. Instead of saying, "you are such a slob, you treat this home like a frat house." Try complaining without blaming. For example, say "I'm not so hot on all these clothes being on the floor, I would really appreciate if you picked up your clothes." The idea is to use a gentle build up versus immediately criticizing your partner.
Defensiveness vs. Taking Responsibility - Defensiveness is warding of a perceived attack and can often be seen as counterattacking. If your partner is a master criticizer then you want to ward off that attack in a more diffusing manner versus attacking back. An example of attacking back, could be "well I didn't see that, but did you see the mess you made over there?". One way of responding in a more diffusing manner is by taking responsibility. For example, if your partner says you are such a slob, you could respond saying, "yes you are right those clothes have been on the floor and I haven't picked them up yet". You don't have to take the blame, you just have to take part of the responsibility.
Contempt vs. Describe Your Own Feelings and Needs- This is the most potent of the four "horsemen" and typically comes later in the relationship. When you truly believe you are better than your partner, it can comes across as really hurtful to your partner. In fact, it chips away at the immune system. Instead scan the environment and find what your partner is doing right. What is it that you truly appreciate in your partner. My partner may not be the best in this, but he or she is great at this.
Stonewalling vs. Do Physiological Self-Soothing - When your partner starts to escalate a situation and you stop paying attention to your partner you are stonewalling. Do physiological self-soothing by emotionally and cognitively disengaging. You might say, I can't have the conversation right now and go take a break. Reconvene at a later time when both of you are ready to speak.
Additional Relationship Principals
Love map principal - In order to have a strong relationship, you need to have a strong friendship foundation. You have to know everything about them. When you start to fall in love with someone, you might ask a bunch of questions to get to know them. For example, "what color do you like?" or "what are your goals?" Twenty-five years passes by and your partner changes, but you don't ask the same questions. Love maps is the idea that you have a map of the partner's internal map. Ask your partner open ended questions to learn more about them.
Nurturing the fondness and admiration - Focus on the positives of what your partner is doing versus the negatives. This is even applicable to those that you manage at a work place. If you are rewarding people you manage, they are more able to do those things correctly. Set an alarm everyday and send a text to your partner for example, "Thank you so much for.." or "I'm so appreciative for.."
Turning toward small things often - Doing small things consistently versus one-time splurges. Turning toward means your partner is looking for acknowledgement. If you are faced down on a phone or computer, you'll miss out on the cues from your partner. You can either turn towards your partner as a positive response, you can turn away and ignore, or lash back at them. Every time you turn towards your partner with a positive response, you are putting a deposit in much like a bank account. So, when there is a huge fight, you have enough buffer and don't over-withdrawal.
Letting your partner influence you - When your partner wants to pursue a goal or adventure, your first response is "whatever you want let's make it happen". Oftentimes, what actually happens is that you become a roadblock. The key is being able to negotiate and understanding why it is so important versus immediately saying no. When men were saying no and weren't even willing to negotiate, 81% of the time couples end up divorcing.
You can have solvable problems and perpetual problems. Solvable problems include "how are we going to use tax refund?" or "whose house are we going to for memorial day?" Oftentimes they tend to be short term in nature.
Perpetual problems are issues that are based more on values. If I am an introvert and my partner is an extrovert that is a perpetual problem. But it is not solvable, it is more about understanding your partner and finding common ground. Another perpetual problem is where one partner is frugal and the other is a big spender. If that is the case and both are looking to purchase a car, write down one or two core attributes you can not be flexible on. For example, it is important to me that we only buy a car with cash.
"You always and you never" are the worst way to bring an issue up. However, you can make a repair attempt. A repair attempt is anything that you do to derailed and change the conversation. For example, you might say "I apologize that is not what I meant to say, or it came out incorrectly". Alternatively you can be silly and lick your partner on his or her cheek. The key is that if you have a strong enough friendship, your partner will accept your "repair attempt".
Create meaning in a relationship by moving from I to we. Creating rituals allows for a meaningful relationship. For example, one husband every evening when the kids went to bed would put a tea kettle and when the tea kettle was ready, his wife and him would massage each other's feet and drink tea. It is the time when both of them can connect. Another way of creating meaning in a relationship is by working on common goals. John likes to say he isn't willing to go anywhere without room service, but his wife Julie wants to hike. John is hiking now.