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Relationship killers

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Relationship killers


Being in a happy, loving relationship is deeply fulfilling. But all relationships, no matter how good they are, need to be worked on. It's better to head problems off at the pass

than to try to figure out what went wrong once the relationship has ended.

We asked Priscilla Sim, a relationship counsellor at Relate, to tell us about the things that kill relationships.


Only connect

For Priscilla, the most fundamental problem that can cause a relationship to fall apart is a lack of connection. It is the main reason people come for relationship counselling,

she says.

"It might be masked behind communication, arguments, lack of boundaries, control issues, jealousy... all kinds of stuff, but at the heart of these issues is usually a lack of

connection," she says.

"A lack of connection might come through in the way that the couple argue, or the way that they're not able to talk about issues or resolve conflicts," she adds.


People might think that communication is the way to connect with someone, but that isn't always the case.

If the way that someone communicates isn't working, it can end up making the disconnection worse, warns Priscilla.

"They might be arguing to try and get their partner to understand them, but if it comes out in the form of criticism, negativity, or accusation, they're likely to be met with

defensiveness, shutting down, or withdrawal," says Priscilla. "Then the person has got the opposite of what they wanted."


Four horsemen

The American relationship researcher, John Gottman, says there are four emotional reactions that can end a relationship. He calls them the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse:

stonewalling, defensiveness, criticism and contempt.

Each of the four horsemen is basically an issue with connection and communication.

Stonewalling is when you give someone the silent treatment. It's a disconnection.

Defensiveness is explaining or telling the other person why they're wrong and why they shouldn't feel that way. It shuts down the conversation, so it's an issue of communication.


Criticism. Being critical feels like an attack rather than communicating things that you are not happy with in a way your partner can understand and hear.

Contempt conveys a lack of respect. "When you lose respect, you're on the way out of that relationship," says Priscilla.

In trying to reconnect couples, Priscilla looks at areas of communication, including Gottman's four horsemen.

"The couple might talk about issues such as jealousy, family issues, control issues but those issues themselves don't define whether a relationship will succeed or fail,"

says Priscilla. "It's how the couple communicate and deal with the issue that's the important bit.


"Somebody might be very jealous, but their partner might be very good at handling that jealousy," she adds.

"They might be good at making their partner feel secure and good at communicating with them in a way that helps them feel safe."

Jealousy, not getting along with his/her family, financial worries, disagreeing on how to raise the kids, all of these things can be a problem if communication is poor.

But they don't have to be relationship killers.


When people come for relationships counselling, they have a particular issue to discuss. Maybe they didn't like the fact that their boyfriend talked to another woman on Facebook.

But, Priscilla says, that's rarely the issue. "It's about the fact that there's insecurity in the relationship which generally comes from a lack of connection."

Maybe the couple argue about it, but they fail to communicate in a way that brings them closer together. That's when they seek help.


Bleeding out

"There are all sorts of issues, such as lack of boundaries, family issues, social media, etc., that can create problems in a relationship, but fundamentally they're just symptoms of

something deeper going on which is usually that there's an insecurity and a lack of connection which to me is the biggest relationship killer," says Priscilla.

"People actually are trying to reconnect with each other, and trying to find a security with each other, and going about it in a way that actually is counterproductive."


And the counterproductive ways are typically Gottman's four horsemen. Instead of complaining, a partner might criticise. Instead of listening, they're defending.

Rather than being respectful and open, they're contemptuous. And rather than being open and engaged, they're stonewalling, shutting down, running away and leaving the



When this happens a lot, Priscilla says the relationship 'bleeds out'.

So is there ever a stage where there is no point resuscitating?

"You have to ask: is it worth it?" says Priscilla. "It's about weighing up the positive and the negative. When the negative outweighs the positive, that's when you're in trouble."


The golden ratio

There's even a ratio to work out if your relationship is worth saving. It's five to one.

"If you have five positive interactions to one negative interaction, you're in a good place in your relationship," says Priscilla. "That also comes from John Gottman.

If you've got five positive interactions, it balances out the one negative interaction and keeps you in balance in terms of the goodwill bank.


"It's important to have the one negative interaction," adds Priscilla. "It can't all be positive interactions, because that actually keeps your relationship alive.

It shows that you are two separate people. That you have your own individual thoughts, and feelings, and opinions, and that you are able to argue about things that you

don't agree with because that's normal and healthy."


A positive interaction can include giving someone a gift, asking how their day was, giving them a hug, listening to them when they're telling you about something that's

really important to them, or simply sitting quietly together watching your favourite TV show.

If you're not having that many good interactions to bad interactions, the first thing you do is up your good interactions.


"You need to start going out on dates more, or spending some quality time together, or some things that you really enjoy doing with each other before you got to this

[bad] place," says Priscilla. "When you first met each other, what was it you really liked doing together? Try to introduce those things so that you increase the ratio of

good stuff that's going on, because the more good stuff you have, the more good feeling you have towards each other. And the connection comes back."







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