Relationship Destroyers: The Four R's

What separates healthy, long-lasting relationships with relationships that fizzle is the absence of specific unhealthy and problematic behaviors and coping mechanisms.  In addition to Dr. John Gottman’s Four Horsemen that includes criticism, contempt, stonewalling, and defensiveness, there are four other predictors of the dissolution of a relationship: resistance, resentment, rejection, and repression. Otherwise known as the four R’s, these toxic behaviors support and promote ongoing and increasing tension within a relationship.  The four R’s can also be understood as defense mechanisms that individuals engage in to help manage painful or uncomfortable feelings associated with an interaction or relationship dynamic.  The problem with these unhealthy defense mechanisms is that they breed disconnection and negative feelings instead of achieving resolution and feelings of connection.

Have you ever noticed that you feel annoyed, critical, or have the desire to distance yourself from your partner after he or she has said, done, or expressed a feeling that you do not like or agree with?  If so, you may be experiencing resistance, which in and of itself, does not end a relationship.  Resistance becomes a problem when a partner deals with these feelings by ignoring or minimizing it, which promotes the second R, resentment.  An effective way to cope with resistance is to acknowledge and share it with your partner in a respectful way so that a mutual process of resolution can take place.

Resentment is the result of unmanaged feelings of resistance that is characterized by hostility, anger, and increased criticism.  Resentment prevents couples from emotionally connecting and creates distance within a relationship.  The longer a partner decides to manage his or her feelings through resentment, the more likely they will begin to engage in the next R, rejection.  However in order to prevent rejection from developing, couples must be open and honest in their relationships about the feelings that are contributing to tension so that opportunities to resolve them can be created. 

Rejection occurs when resistance and resentment within a relationship go unmanaged and can be exhibited either actively or passively.  Active rejection occurs when partner makes his or her anger and resentment known through complaints, criticism and verbal abuse, threats to end the relationship, refusal to engage in activities or interactions with his or her partner, stonewalling, and efforts to create time apart from his or her partner.  Passive rejection is exhibited through indirect means in which a partner may not have awareness of it. Examples include losing interest in activities or interactions with a partner, spending more time at work or in other activities, fantasizing about being with others, engaging in an affair, ignoring, or challenging a partner. Rejection means that unmanaged tension has evolved into physical and emotional distance and often relationships end when rejection occurs. However if couples remain together through rejection but do not effectively acknowledge and resolve it, the fourth R, repression, occurs.

Couple’s who evolve into a repressed state as a result of unmanaged resistance, resentment, and rejection have become emotionally numb to one another as well as may begin to experience numbness in other areas of their lives.  Repression is a defense mechanism that couples engage in to help make their lives more comfortable with unpleasant feelings, which can often promote a false sense of satisfaction.  Therefore repression leads to the end of a relationship when couples bottle their unpleasant emotions over a long period of time and feel that too much distance has been created to come back from it. 

Hopefully it became obvious that the only way to avoid the Four R’s from occurring in a relationship is to:
1.    Acknowledge and take responsibility for any negative or unpleasant feelings when they occur; don’t wait and stew on it.
2.    Use assertiveness skills to share your true and honest feelings in an open and respectful manner.
3.    Verbalize the behavior or actions you would like you and your partner to engage in that you believe will effectively manage the negative feelings.
4.    Practice active listening and be responsive to when your partner speaks. 
5.    Negotiate and engage in a process of resolution with your partner. 

~ Cory Stege, M.S. LMFT