In our last post, we talked about tips for having a healthy relationship. We also introduced you to Dr. John Gottman, who knows more about relationships and can predict their success rate at 94%. Today we’re going to talk about what does NOT work in a relationship.
Through his findings, he’s identified what he refers to as The Four Horsemen: Criticism, Contempt, Defensiveness, and Stonewalling. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse is a metaphor depicting the end of times in the New Testament of the Bible. They describe conquest, war, hunger, and death. Dr. Gottman has chosen to use this metaphor to describe communication styles that can predict the end of a relationship.
We want to preface by saying that most of his research has been conducted with married couples… but you don’t usually marry someone without dating them first. Negative patterns can start long before marriage, so literally anyone can use this as a guide for what NOT to do in a relationship. We promise you’ll be much better off without these things, and so will your significant other.
- Criticism – Criticism likes to assume the worst of someone. It takes the blame off of you and shifts it onto someone else. It often looks like “you NEVER” or “you ALWAYS” statements. If you are critical of your partner or they are critical of you, don’t panic… your relationship is not doomed yet, however, it does lead to a slippery slope for the other three horsemen to invite themselves into your relationship.
- Contempt – The goal of contempt is to make someone feel worthless, whether your realize it or not. It looks like eye-rolling, mocking, dramatic body language, sarcasm, disrespect, and name-calling. Contempt is fed by negative thoughts that boil just under the surface until it’s so overwhelming that someone acts out in a truly mean-spirited manner.
- Defensiveness – Defensiveness is born from pride. A defensive person has trouble seeing themselves as “wrong” and often plays the victim. At its worst, it can turn the table and try to blame the other partner for something they didn’t do. The best way to fight defensiveness is take ownership over your piece of the “I wronged you” pie and apologize.
- Stonewalling – If stonewalling has entered your relationship, things are not beyond repair, but serious work and help will be needed to get to a healthy place. Stonewalling happens when one partner shuts themselves down almost completely to the other person. They may be in the same room physically, but they’re not there emotionally or mentally. Indicators that this is happening can often look like obsessive behaviors such as drinking, smoking, binging movies or games, or looking at porn. In other words, someone has checked out.
The bad news about all of these is that they’re incredibly hurtful to all people involved. The good news is that no one does relationships perfectly, and there are antidotes for all of four horsemen. The Gottman Institute blogs on ways to fight each one HERE. Check out their other blogs for more relationship statistics and information.
And to close, a very important side note — Abuse, addictions and affairs are not listed here, but if any of those three things are present in your relationship, please get help. Everyone deserves to be loved, to happy, and to be healthy. <3