Communication Killers, Part 1

Within the first three minutes of a couple’s conversation, Dr. John Gottman can predict with 96 percent accuracy whether the relationship will survive over the long-haul or not. He bases his predictions on four potentially destructive communication styles and coping mechanisms: (1) harsh startup, (2) the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, (3) flooding, and (4) body language.

Harsh Startup

Imagine starting off a discussion with your spouse about an issue that upsets you. If you feel frustrated and resentful, your first uttered words might be harsh, sarcastic or critical. For example, “The trouble with you is …” or “Why do you always have to be so selfish?” or “My problem with you is that you never…”

Notice the accusing and hostile tone of these words. Imagine the body language associated with the tone. This is what is called a harsh startup, meaning how you “started” discussing the issue was severe, sharp or accusing.


If you have ever gotten into a heated discussion with your spouse (or anyone else, for that matter) and suddenly your pulse races, your heart thumps, your blood pressure rises, your face flushes, your muscles tense, your sweat glands work overtime and you feel like you are physically going to explode; this is what Gottman refers to as flooding.

These symptoms make it almost impossible for the flooded spouse to focus on what the other person is saying, think logically and react rationally. The negative physiological reactions of flooding lead to more anxiety and more negative thoughts and emotions which lead to increased flooding. The discussion then escalates out of control with no hope for resolution.

EXERCISE Each spouse take 3-5 minutes to share what you have contributed to the current condition of your marriage.

When one spouse shares, it is the other spouse’s job to listen. Avoid interrupting. Focus on what he/she says.

When it is your turn to speak, use “I” statements versus “you” statements.

After both of you have had the opportunity to share, discuss:

Did you learn anything new?

What is one thing you believe you can do differently to positively impact your marriage?

Read Communication Killers, Part 2 here.



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