I spent the weekend with my best friend from college. She was visiting from the Midwest, where it’s already the dead of winter by Texas standards. Here in Flower Mound, Texas the mornings were still cool and crisp and perfect for long walks together with my Labrador retriever. She is also a counselor, so of course, many of our conversations surrounded work and how we can best support our private practice clients. We both love relationship information that’s research-based, and spoke a lot about Brene Brown and vulnerability (https://heidimcbain.com/vulnerability-if-being-vulnerable-is-at-the-heart-of-our-connections-with-others-why-do-so-many-of-us-struggle-with-it/) as well as The Gottman Institute. Today I want to focus on Gottman’s research on marriage.
Gottman is famous in the therapy world for a concept called The Four Horsemen, and how these negative patterns of interaction present in marriage. He has been doing research on marriage for many, many years, and has also been able to accurately predict divorce with over 90% accuracy based on his research. Below are the four horsemen to look out for in your own relationship, as well as the antidotes if you do come across them.
The Four Horsemen and Their Antidotes:
- Criticism- This is verbally attacking your partner’s personality or character. It goes beyond not liking their behavior to attacking who they are as a person.
- Gentle Start Up- Talk to your partner about your feelings using “I” statements and express a positive need.
- Contempt- Attacking your partner’s sense of self with the intent to insult or abuse them. This is a step beyond criticism where it can really start to destroy your partner’s self-esteem, their feelings of worthiness, etc.
- Build a Culture of Appreciation- Remind yourself of your partner’s positive qualities and find gratitude within yourself for their positive actions.
- Defensiveness- Victimizing yourself to ward off a perceived attack and reverse the blame onto your partner. It can be very hard to talk to a partner who is constantly on the defensive in life.
- Take Responsibility- Accept your partner’s perspective and offer an apology for any wrongdoing on your part.
- Stonewalling- Withdrawing to avoid conflict and convey disapproval, distance and separation. There’s no emotional connection between the couple when this occurs.
- Physiological Self-Soothing- Take a break and spend that time doing something soothing and distracting.
Hard Stuff, I know! Were those difficult for you to read? Did you see any of your own marital patterns listed above?
The first step in healing your marriage is to acknowledge that there are some aspects that need to be looked at and improved upon. Start to notice if you and your partner have some of these four horsemen within your own marriage. Once you start to notice these patterns, you can start to make some changes using the antidotes listed above. But, for more deep-seated issues, marital or individual therapy may be warranted to work through these issues on a deeper level.
Yes, a marriage takes two people to get into an unhealthy relationship cycle; however, you can start to break these patterns by doing something new and healthy, and hopefully your partner will catch on and follow suit as well. I wanted to share this important information with you as a way to educate you on some of the dysfunctional marital patterns that do exist, and ways that you can start to make some small changes in your marriage that can lead to healthier ways of interacting and being together as a couple. Plus, any work that you do individually and as a couple to make a more positive and loving relationship and home environment, can also have a huge impact on your family as a whole. Isn’t that reason enough to get started today?