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Relationship Killers and Antidotes and TODAY TONIGHT FOREVER by Madeline Kay Sneed

Athena is a bridesmaid. Ugh.

Cover of the book Today Tonight Forever by Madeline Kay Sneed used as a teaching tool for relationship killers and antidotes

She’s okay with wearing the dress and supporting her friend, but not about seeing her ex-wife, Syndee, who is attending the wedding. Athena and Sydnee’s divorce was messy. Sydnee had an affair and chose the other woman over Athena, claiming that the marriage was over long before. Athena took offense to this, feeling that Sydnee’s infidelity ended their relationship. Upon closer inspection, though, we learn that Athena stopped engaging with Sydnee years earlier. Resentment slowly grew over time as Athena stopped attending Sydee’s work events and speaking Spanish with her. Then, after Athena’s dad died, Athena frequently lashed out at Sydnee and treated her coldly.


Conflict is unavoidable in relationships. What separates healthy and unhealthy couples is the way they manage conflict. The Gottman Institute, experts in relationships, studied communication patterns that doom relationships and labeled relationship killers “The 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse.” These relationship killers are:


Criticism: Verbal attacks on character, personality, priorities, etc.


Contempt: Treating with disrespect to make the other person feel less than.  Couples who exhibit high levels of contempt are the most likely to get divorced.


Defensiveness: Behaving like a victim of unjust accusations to persuade a partner to back off.


Stonewalling: Conveying disapproval or avoiding conflict by withdrawing.


Learning and engaging in new behaviors can improve couples’ interactions. Here are productive, relationship-building communication tools that couples can use as antidotes to relationship killers:


Gentle Start-Up: Use I-Statements to express your wants and needs without accusation or escalation.


Appreciation: Consistently verbalize gratitude for the small things. You’ll feel more satisfied, and your partner will feel valued.


Responsibility: Defensiveness feels like blame and intensifies conflict. Instead, acknowledge your role and work towards compromise.  


Self-soothe: When people are physiologically overwhelmed, they shut down. If you’re flooded, call a 20-minute time-out and use that time to calm down.


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