How to build a loving relationship

A loving relationship is based on a deep friendship where there is mutual respect and enjoyment of companionship – both partners share a deep sense of meaning. They support each other’s hopes and aspirations. There’s a sense of purpose in their lives as a couple. To keep your love alive and enduring requires work.

According to Dr John Gottman, the guru of healthy and happy relationships, a relationship breakup is not caused by the number of arguments a couple has, but it’s the way they argue that will cause the breakup. If your discussion starts in a harsh way, it will inevitably end on a negative note. It’s important to be aware of the negative behaviour patterns, called the “Four Horsemen of Apocalypse”. 


A criticism is attacking your partner’s personality or character with the intent of making someone right and someone wrong – throwing in blame, i.e. “you always…” “you never…” you’re the type of person who…” why are you so…” “What’s wrong with you?”  This behaviour is so much more destructive than just complaining.  

A complaint only addresses the specific action at which your partner failed – “I’m angry that you didn’t wash up last night. We agree that I cook and you wash up”.


Once a couple has reached the criticism phase of destructive conflict, the danger of contempt come within reach. Attacking your partner’s sense of self to insult or psychologically abuse him/her.  Insults and name-calling: “bitch, bastard, wimp, fat, stupid, ugly, slob, lazy…”. Hostile humour, sarcasm or mockery.  Body language & tone of voice: sneering, rolling your eyes, curling your upper lip.

Contempt introduces the intention to emotionally demoralise a partner and is the basis for invalidating communication.  Contemptuous behaviours attack a partner’s sense of self and cause the escalation of negative emotion. It is pure poison in a relationship. Contempt leads to more conflict rather than reconciliation.

Contempt is fueled by long-simmering negative thoughts about your partner. Belligerence is just as deadly as contempt to a relationship. It is a form of aggressive anger because it contains a threat or provocation.


Defensiveness is one of the most unconstructive conflict behaviours one can engage in because it creates a competitive environment rather than the feeling of a partnership.  It rarely helps because the partner may ‘turn up the heat’ to be heard. 

  • Seeing yourself as the victim, warding off a perceived attack.  Making excuses that external circumstances beyond your control forced you to act in a certain way.  “It’s not my fault…”; “he/she made me do it…”
  • Cross-complaining: meeting your partner’s complaint, or criticism with a complaint of your own; ignoring what your partner said.
  • Disagreeing and then cross-complaining – “that’s not true, you’re the one who…” “I did this because you did that…”
  • “Yes… but” – start off agreeing but end up disagreeing.  Repeating yourself without paying attention to what the other person is saying.  Whining “it’s not fair.” 

Defensiveness just escalates the conflict, in effect, you’re saying “the problem isn’t me, it’s you”.


Eventually, one partner tunes out. Withdrawing from the relationship is a way to avoid conflict.  Partners may think that they are trying to be “neutral” but stonewalling conveys disapproval, icy distance, separation, disconnection, and/or smugness.  Stony silence; monosyllabic mutterings; changing the subject; removing yourself physically; silence treatment.

The stonewaller’s message to his/her partner is “I’m withdrawing, disengaging from any meaningful interaction with you”. Sometimes stonewalling can be used to calm tempers, lower the tension, etc., but more serious problems arise when it becomes habitual and follows the downward spiral with the four other destructive stages.

Healthy solutions:

  • Make specific complaints & requests –  “When you said or did this, I felt…; I want… “
  • Conscious communications – speak the unarguable truth and listen well.
  • Validate your partner.  Let your partner know what makes sense to you about what they are saying;  let them know you understand what they are feeling, see through their eyes.
  • Shift to appreciation – give 5 times as much positive feeling & interaction as negative.  Take responsibility: “what can I learn from this?” and “what can I do about it?”.
  • Re-write your inner script.  Replace thoughts of righteous indignation or innocent victimisation with thoughts of appreciation, a responsibility that is soothing & validating.
  • Practice not to be on the defensive.  Allow your partner’s comments to be what they are – just thoughts and puffs of air.  Let go of your own perception/stories that you are making up in your head.