The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse
Based on John Gottman's, PhD, Relationship Research Adapted from his book "The Seven Principles for Making a Marriage Work"
Dr. John Gottman can predict with 96% accuracy within the first three minutes of a couple having a conversation whether the relationship he is watching will survive over the long-haul or not. Dr. John Gottman, a psychologist at the University of Washington, studied more than
2,000 married couples over two decades. He discovered patterns about how partners relate to each other which can be used to predict – with 94% accuracy – which marriages will succeed and which will fail. Gottman says that each horseman paves the way for the next.
The Four Horsemen are a metaphor depicting the end of times in the Old Testament. They describe conquest, war, hunger, and death respectively. Dr. Gottman uses this metaphor to describe communication styles that can predict the end of a relationship.
The first horseman in a relationship is criticism. Criticism is the act of finding fault or judging unfavorably. When you criticize your partner, you attack your partner’s personality or character, usually with the intent of making yourself right and your partner wrong. Criticism includes generalizations such as “you always…”, “you never…” and “you’re the type of person who …”
Example: "You never think about how your behavior is affecting other people. I don't believe you are that forgetful; you just don't think about me."
The second horseman is contempt. When we communicate from this state, we are being mean, treating others with disrespect by using sarcasm, ridicule, name-calling, and/or body language such as eye-rolling. The partner feels despised and worthless. Contempt is toxic and cannot be replaced with anything. It must be eliminated. Contempt is a feeling of disdain or scorn. Contempt attacks your partner’s sense of self with the intention to insult or psychologically abuse him/her.
Example: "I've been with the kids all day, running around like mad to keep this house going and you come home and just park yourself in front of the TV. You are just useless."
The third horseman is defensiveness. This is an easy one to fall into. Defensiveness is seeing yourself as the victim and warding off a perceived attack. When partners are defensive they are not open to learning and are also not able to access the vulnerable feelings underneath. Some typical defensive responses are:
- Making excuses (e.g., external circumstances beyond your control forced you to act in a certain way) “It’s not my fault…”, “I didn’t…”
- 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 …”
- Yes-butting: start off agreeing but end up disagreeing.
- Repeating yourself without paying attention to what the other person is saying.
- Whining “It’s not fair.”
Example: Meredith: "Did you call Alex and Izzie to let them know that we are not coming tonight as you said this morning you would?" Derek: "I was too busy today. As a matter of fact you knew how busy my schedule was. Why didn't you just do it?" He not only responds defensively but turns the table and makes it her fault. A non-defensive response would have been: "I forgot. I should have asked you this morning to do it because I knew my day would be packed. Let me call them right now."
The fourth horseman is stonewalling. When we stonewall, we avoid conflict either because we are unconscious of our own feelings or because we are afraid. Rather than confronting the issues with our partner, we make evasive maneuvers and simply stop engaging in the business of relating to another person. Stonewalling is withdrawing from the relationship as a way to avoid conflict. Partners may think they are trying to be “neutral” but stonewalling conveys disapproval, icy distance, separation, disconnection, and/or smugness. Some typical stonewall responses are stony silence, monosyllabic mutterings, changing the subject and removing yourself physically. Stonewalling is considered to be the most “dangerous” of the four horsemen.
Example: Izzie leaving town and cutting off all communication with her husband, Alex.
(See http://www.gottman.com/ for more information on Dr. John Gottman.)
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