Meet the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse in Marriages?
After putting in over 40 years of research, Dr. John Gottman, Ph.D. showed that there were certain patterns that once introduced in a marriage could prove destructive to love and at the end destroy the love in the marriage. Research shows that these four interactions; criticism, defensiveness, stonewalling and contempt are very damaging to a marriage. When you learn to identify these horsemen in a marriage, you must be able to immediately help couples turn them around. Let’s quickly delve into the notorious four horsemen.
First Horseman – Criticism
I believe that a marriage that does not have conflicts is a marriage that may not grow. The same way tough times make us aspire for more and become better as individuals, conflict in marriages make us communicate with our partner and build better marriages. Criticism happens when you constantly blame your partner and makes them feel like something is fundamentally wrong with them.
If you discover that you or your partner constantly puts each other down by pointing out flaws, this horseman is already present in your marriage.
When you criticize someone its about them, when you complain, it’s usually about the topic or behavior. I’ll give you a really quick example.
You get to the kitchen after a hard day of cleaning and scrubbing only to discover that your partner had used the sink and didn’t clean it.
CRITICISM: What is wrong with you? Can’t you just learn for once and do the needful. Its so simple, clean up after washing.
COMPLAINT: Please lets clean up after using the sink like i’ve always said. It attracts ants if not cleaned.
Second Horseman – Defensiveness
It is human to defend yourself when under you feel criticized. The attack could be physical, emotional or mental but regardless of the kind, you will defend yourself when attacked. It’s important to know that there are times we need to draw a fine line between “feeling criticized”‘ and actually “being criticized” . This is hugely dependent on how your partner has been handling related issues or how much you personalize what is being said to you. When defending yourself from a perceived attack, you either retaliate with a counter-attack or simple adopt a victim stance.
If you truly want to excel in marriage, Never be the one who denies all charges. Accept what is true and change what can be changed in the moment.
Using our first scenario about the kitchen sink, This is what a defensive stance looks like
Defensive Stance: I have not even washed anything today, Why are you accusing me of pouring water all over the sink if i haven’t even been there?
Healthy Stance: Oh shoot! i know you keep asking me to clean up, Thing is i haven’t been in there today. I’ll clean up when next i use. Thanks for the heads up.
When you truly accept some responsibility for whatever must have happened, you exterminate Defensiveness. This way you are looking for something you agree with and not what you can bite on to. I see couples who due to defensiveness trigger their partners who react so badly that things get out of hand quickly.
Lastly, there is such a thing as understandable defensiveness when you are just being attacked by a partner for simply breathing in oxygen. Now you have to hold your breath around them to a point where you feel like it’s all not worth it.
Third Horseman: Stonewalling
Now, this is where things really get serious because from this stage, you decide to shut out your partner even if the both of you are in the same room. If they cannot take care of my emotional, mental or physical well-being, i might as well shut them out. At this point, the tell-tale signs begin to creep in.
A) Defiance Stance: When you notice that you’d rather be doing something else while your partner is talking to you, then you are definitely stonewalling them.
B) Little or No Eye-contact: In sessions, i see couples who cannot maintain eye contact. This is such a telling sign that a lot of damage has been done. At a recent event where i had the opportunity to speak to over 300 couples i played a little game where i asked couples to maintain eye contact for 10 seconds without making funny faces, saying anything, laughing or doing anything to take away from the seriousness of the moment. by a show of hands, It was obvious that only about 20% of the couples could complete this successfuly. The reason i understand is very simple.
Whoever told you the eyes were the windows to the soul was absolutely correct because if you looked closely into your partners eyes, you would see everything you have deposited in there staring back at you. – Temple Obike
C) Passive Aggressive Behavior: When you start making faces or just making gestures that show you are not really listening to what a partner is saying or doing.
When you stonewall you think its because you are so cool and not allowing things get to you but i hate to be the one who breaks this to you.
Stonewalling happens when you are internally overwhelmed with everything that is happening in your marriage or relationship. You get anxious easily, you experience palpitations and sometimes if not handled swiftly, you could become depressed. Sorry. – Temple Obike
For the stone-waller and the stone-walled (like the sound of this)
The moment you see yourself stonewalling your partner, you have given them reason to start fighting harder and trying even harder to be seen and heard. They will escalate whatever conflict you have with them because they feel you must not ignore them.
For the partner who has been constantly criticized and pushed to a point of overt defensiveness, their silence means they are reflecting on everything that has been said and if they have a vindictive bone in them, are most likely thinking of ninety-nine reasons they shouldn’t be letting your negative energy seep through them anymore.
Well, both parties are wrong and MUST re-engage conversations by calming down and conversing again. 85% of the time,, men do most of the stonewalling because 99.9% of the time women do the talking. Guys, one of the things you must first of all identify in therapy is why you stone wall your spouse and then you learn how to calm down. Ladies, for you it’s very important that you understand how your behavior negatively affects your partner thereby making him look disinterested. When the both of you learn to break these patterns, you will become immune.
Then it’s time to re-engage in conversation. It’s helpful also for the woman to understand that her behavior actually greatly impacts her partner, and he’s managing that impact by looking “disinterested.”
Fourth Horseman: Contempt
The final Horseman is contempt. Contempt is a thing that is born in marriages where resentment, toxicity, a lack of communication and more have been allowed to fester. Contempt always happens when the relationship has fully broken down. The moment you and your partner resort to threats, insulting each other, using derogatory terms on each other then you are here.
These traits mentioned are all a form of emotional abuse and they kill love. The state of being contemptuous is by itself an act that seeks to bring down, ridicule or make a partner look bad in an attempt to look better.
In many families before providing them with the required help, I noticed that the husband’s most times were willing to with-hold help from a wife in need just to make her firstly get hurt and then learn from that mistake.
The moment contempt has you in it’s clutch, you suddenly becomes a man or woman who always looks for negative things about your partner. When you do find this, you deliver the report to your partner with such intensity that’s geared to cause emotional and psychological damage. In extreme cases, research has linked contempt to the prevalence of certain infectious illnesses in the life of the person receiving this. This usually shows up in childhood and if not carefully handled can take over in adulthood with or without the presence of a toxic relationship.
The non-verbal ways of identifying contempt is with passive aggressiveness such as eye-rolling, or mimicry.
The quickest way to kill this demon is by becoming appreciative of your partner Yes I called it that “a demon” and it has nothing to do with my Sunday mood. A state of mind that makes you want to literally see someone else get hurt is not purely a human action.
To fully eradicate contempt from your marriage is a long-term process but the very first thing you can do is to begin to talk about issues from your own perspective. Shed light on your feelings, anguish, desires and frustrations.
Lastly, for the therapist dealing with couple’s who come in for proper marriage counseling, the first exploratory session may be given to de-escalating and unpacking all the negatives but moving forward, real therapists take control of the room and quench the negative energy. From that moment onwards, it is now time to talk about your feelings and not about what is wrong with your partner. For couples who may be attempting to do this by themselves from home, this is my advice to you as well. Sit down as a couple and resist the urge to talk about your partner’s fault. Talk about your feelings for once as your partner listens and vice versa. This is how true change and positive energy gets introduced into your marriage.