Understanding Conflicts in Relationships

You may have heard people saying that everything changes after marriage. Usually, the reason behind is that red flags in a relationship are often ignored in the name of love. However, if they are acknowledge and dealt with in the beginning, they can help in not only building resilience but can also strengthen the relationship, ensuring a relationship that is stable and long lasting. In cases where these conflicts are unaddressed or are mismanaged, the relationships meet an end, in the form of a breakup or a divorce. In 2014, it was reported that around 150 divorce cases are presented daily in courts in Lahore[1]. These figures indicate the need to teach couples effective conflict management.

Research suggests that the leading causes of divorce include physical and emotional abuse, forced marriages, adultery, infidelity, infertility, financial constraints and others. While some of these factors might not be in control of either of the partners, such as infertility, other aspects can be dealt with[2].

According to Dr. John Gottman, a senior researcher with years of work experience in the area of marriage and relationships, it is not how the couples ‘resolve’ these conflicts but how they ‘manage’ it[3]. He has identified the four destructive patterns of communication, which lead to these conflicts. He calls them “The Four Horses of Apocalypse” of a relationship that are said to lead to divorce.

1.Criticism: Verbally attacking partners personality or character

2.Contempt: Attacking your partner’s sense of self with an intention to insult or psychologically abuse them

3.Defensiveness: Seeing yourself as the victim in efforts to ward off a perceived attack and reverse the blame

4.Stonewalling: Withdrawing from the relationship as a way of avoiding conflict in efforts to convey disapproval, distance and separation

For each of these four horses, there is an antidote, which can prevent future damage to the relationship. Here is how it can be done:

1.Criticism: Focusing on the point complaint rather than a general critical remark

2.Contempt: Create and build a culture of appreciation in the relationship

3.Defensiveness: Hear out the spouse and take responsibility for the problem

4.Stonewalling: Convey feelings to the spouse and agree to take a break

Managing conflicts is the key to long-lasting relationships and Dr. John Gottman answers the ‘how’ of it.

[1] Rising Divorce Rates in Pakistan – Its Impact on the Individual and Society | JPMS Medical Blogs. (n.d.). Retrieved from

[2] Earp, B. D., Sandberg, A., &Savulescu, J. (2012). Natural Selection, Childrearing, and the Ethics of Marriage (and Divorce): Building a Case for the Neuroenhancement of Human Relationships. Philosophy & Technology, 25(4), 561–587.

[3] The Four Horsemen: The Antidotes. (2013, April 26). Retrieved October 26, 2017, from

It is important to understand abuse when we talk about relationships   

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