The Four R’s – Warning signs in relationships (John Gotman)

Relationships don’t just fall apart overnight. There are warning signs to look for, signs that your levels of emotional tension are rising and that the relationship is in trouble. I call these warning signs the Four R’s. 

The Four R’s encompass the four stages of tension in a relationship. You pass through these stages frequently, and if you don’t learn how to avoid them, the four R’s will turn into the four stages of the death of your relationship.

The Four R’s are:

Resistance, Resentment, Rejection, and Repression.


It is normal to experience some resistance in your relationships with other human beings, especially those very close to you. Resistance occurs when you notice yourself taking exception to something another person is doing, saying, or feeling. You feel annoyed, critical, a little separate from them.

Example: You are in bed with your partner, ready to go to sleep. He starts to stimulate you, in hopes of making love. You notice yourself feeling resistance to him, a feeling like “Oh, no, I wish he’d be more gentle or start off by kissing me. It bothers me when he rushes like this.”

Example: Your wife is talking with her best friend and jokes about how you never help with the children. You notice yourself feeling resistance to what she says and a little annoyed.

Most people handle signs of resistance by ignoring them and pretending nothing is wrong. You probably have thoughts like: “Don’t get so upset over nothing,” or “You’re being too picky; no one’s perfect,” or “Just forget about it. Why rock the boat?” This is your first mistake. Ignoring feelings of resistance is the first step toward moving right through the Four R’s. If you don’t reveal your feelings of resistance and resolve them with your partner, these little resistances build up and turn into:


Resentment is a more developed state of resistance. Now you no longer feel merely annoyed by something your partner does — you can’t stand it! While resistance caused annoyance, resentment causes anger. You feel angry, critical, hostile, frustrated, unloving. At that moment you have begun to separate from your partner and retreat behind your emotional walls.

Example: You experience night after night of sex without your partner being patient or gentle enough, and you don’t express your feelings of annoyance to him. The night comes when you no longer simply resist his techniques of lovemaking, you really resent it. You feel: “I hate the way he paws at me. I hate how insensitive he is.”

Example: You have listened to your wife put you down over and over again about not helping with the children without telling her your feelings of resistance. Finally, you begin to feel fed up — you resent her attitude: “I hate how damned critical she is of me. She doesn’t appreciate how hard I work all day for her, and then she goads me for not helping with the children.”

If you don’t tell the truth about your feelings of resentment and resolve them with your partner, the resentment builds up and turns into…


Rejection means separation: emotional, physical, or both. This stage of the Four R’s occurs when so much resistance and resentment have built up that it is impossible for you to be comfortable staying emotionally connected to the other person, and so you separate yourself from him or her. Rejection may occur in two ways:

1.Active Rejection: Your partner is aware of how angry you are because you are: threatening to leave; refusing to cooperate or do what your partner wants; complaining about your partner to others; verbally abusing your partner; refusing your partner’s sexual advances; spending as much time as possible away from your partner; or leaving the room and refusing to talk about issues during a fight.

2. Passive rejection: Your partner may be unaware of how angry you really are because you are: fantasizing about other sexual partners; having an affair; not responding sexually when your partner makes love to you; losing sexual desire “for no apparent reason”; becoming a workaholic; having no time for your partner; tuning your partner out when he/she speaks to you; disagreeing with every point of view your partner takes; and secretly longing for your “freedom” — to leave the relationship and be on your own.

Sex and Rejection

In this third state of the Four R’s, your sex life will deteriorate, if not disappear entirely.

You can’t feel turned on to someone at whom you are so angry, so you turn off. You may just feel a lack of attraction or diminished sexual desire. You may tell yourself you don’t have an interest in sex anymore. Or you may actually feel repelled or disgusted at the thought of having sex with your partner.

If you stay together in the stage of rejection, your relationship will be either very rocky, or very dull. This depends on whether you are engaged active rejection or passive rejection.

Many couples do not survive this stage. The breakup is usually very painful and filled with anger and bitterness.

If you don’t tell the truth about your feelings of rejection and resolve them with your partner, the tension builds up and turns into the next level of separation.


Repression is a state of emotional numbness. You enter this stage when you are tired of resisting, resenting, and rejecting. You successfully repress all of your negative emotions, numbing yourself to them in order to be comfortable. You may repress your feelings consciously or unconsciously. Often in the state of repression, you tell yourself such things as: “It’s just not worth fighting over anymore.” “It doesn’t really matter, anyway.” ‘We have to learn to get along for the sake of the children. ” “I’m too tired to deal with this anymore. ” “Everyone has these problems, so let’s just forget it. ” ‘We have to look good because of the kids (the church, my job, our neighbors) so let’s just act civilized to one another.”

If you are in stage four, your emotional numbness will spill over into the rest of your life. You lose your passion and aliveness. You may feel very even, flat, or bored. Often you experience fatigue and low energy. You may have successfully repressed the pain, but you have repressed joy and excitement as well.

Repression is the most dangerous of the Four R’s, because in this stage you can fool yourself into believing that your relationship is fine, when in fact it’s in grave danger. I often work with couples who are so repressed that they truly believe they do not have any problems. Of course, they have little or no sex life, no passion, and no dreams left. They may say they have “worked through” their problems. What they mean is that they have repressed their feelings and can now live comfortably, if not passionately, together.

A couple in stage four may appear to be content. You might notice that they never fight or argue and that they are very polite to one another. You may even envy their relationship until one day you hear that they have separated or divorced. You think to yourself, “I can’t understand it. They seemed so happy.” “Seemed” is the right choice of words. They were repressing all of their unpleasant emotions and ended up killing the relationship.

How to Avoid the Four R’s

There is only one solution for preventing your relationships from moving through the Four R’s: The moment you notice some Emotional Tension between you and your partner, tell the complete truth about how you feel. If you tell the truth about feelings the moment either of you notices them, you will nip resentment and rejection in the bud. It’s a lot easier to resolve a small conflict than a big one that’s been brewing a long time.

Don’t wait! Don’t overlook small issues! Don’t think that what you are feeling is too insignificant! After all, would you rather fight over something significant?

Facing Truth

I believe that one of the most serious problems in society today is that many people are walking around in a state of permanent emotional repression. When simply repressing their feelings becomes difficult, they turn to alcohol, drugs, food, tranquilizers, overwork, and other unhealthy methods to help them stay numb.

People need to learn how to deal with emotional tension in relationships and how to identify and express their emotions in positive ways. The Four R’s apply to all your relationships, not just with a lover, but with your parents, your children, your boss, your friends, and even yourself!

 Article Source:

How to Make Love All The Time: Make Love Last a Lifetime 

by Barbara DeAngelis.

The above was excerpted with permission from the book, “How to Make Love All the Time” ©?1987, published by Dell Publishing, 1540 Broadway, New York, NY 10036..


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