Have you ever wondered if there’s something you or your partner are doing that may be harming your relationship? There are 4 behaviors known as The Four Horsemen that may predict relationship problems or divorce by as much as 93%. Dr. Gottman of The Gottman Institute identified the four behavior and communication patterns. He called them The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse because, as the original story is a metaphor for the end of the time, these patterns may be predictors of a troubled marriage or relationship.
While it is normal to be upset with your partner sometimes and therefore offer a critique, but there are differences between a critique, which is a constructive criticism, and criticism. It is very important to distinguish between these two. Criticism is when you criticize your partner’s sense of self, as if something is inherently wrong with them. In that case, you may say things like “You are always so self-absorbed”; “You never care about me” or “why are you so stupid?”. Criticism may cause your partner to feel attacked and they may become defensive. However, constructive criticism may sound like: “I noticed that we’ve had some miscommunications lately. It was hurtful to feel like we don’t understand each other. What can we do differently to improve this?” Constructive criticism can help your partner understand your feelings and work towards fixing the situation. Without constructive criticism, your partner may not know what to do or know what made you mad, angry, or sad. Expressing constructive criticism may lower the chances of poor communication in a relationship or marriage.
This behavior has the greatest predictor of a divorce is contempt. Contempt attacks one’s sense of self. It is much worse than criticism because not only may it appear like you don’t like your partner’s personality, it’s may also appear like you think you are superior to them. Contempt can be verbal or non-verbal. The latter can manifest in various forms of eye-rolling, grunting, muttering, neglect, etc. Verbal contempt can be seen in the forms of hurtful sarcasm, belittling, deprecating, etc. In general, contempt creates a highly negative atmosphere between the partners, and its effects are worse when both of the partners engage in that behavior. It may be beneficial to eliminate this behavior. Trust, appreciation, respect and kindness are basic requirements in a relationship.
The third predictor usually comes as a response to criticism. It is never easy to hear someone blame or criticize us. When we feel like our sense of self is being attacked, defensiveness arises.
For example, if your partner tells you “Hey, why didn’t you go grocery shopping, we don’t have anymore food!” The defensive answer may be something like “Oh, come on! You literally know that I didn’t have any time. I had to do the laundry, take the kids to school, and make dinner. Why didn’t you do it since you don’t do anything smart most of the time anyway?” As you can notice, that response is a bit loaded and typically unnecessary. It can make an argument worse and usually doesn’t result in a good outcome. However, there is a good way to respond without getting defensive, but still voicing your reasons: “I am sorry. I had so many different things to do today that I completely forgot. I can do it in the morning. Next time I don’t have time to do something we agreed on, I will check with you to see if you can do it.” That is a calmer, more conducive answer. It can stop the situation from escalating to an argument and may lead to healthier communication patterns.
Stonewalling happens when we completely shut down any form of communication from our partner. It can be a silent treatment, stopping communication with your partner, or physically leaving. It holds in negative emotions, like anger or annoyance, and makes the other person feel uncertain. Stonewalling is one of the unhealthiest communication behaviors and never gives a good result. If two people don’t talk about the problems, or if one doesn’t listen and cooperate, there is very little chance that any problem may be solved. That is why it is important to try to open up, communicate your issues, talk about the feelings, as well as propose the possible solutions. Only that can help to rebuild the intimacy. Or if someone needs to step away, that is fine too, but one can try to communicate that to the other partner “Honey, I’m very angry right now; I need to step away. We’ll continue talking about this once I cool off.”
Remember that noticing and paying attention to our behaviors and they way we treat others is very important. If you feel your marriage or relationship has one or more of these behavioral patterns, it may be time to work on eliminating those behaviors. Couples therapy or marital therapy is a good option if you’d like to change those behaviors, improve communication, and increase understanding in your relationship.
Interested in Couples therapy or individual therapy? Dr. Carolina Raeburn offers individual or couples online therapy to residents of Florida. For more information schedule your Appointment with Dr. Raeburn.
*All the information published in this article is for informational and educational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice or treatment. Any information provided here is offered in generic form.