John Gottman and his wife Julie Gottman, of the Gottman Institute, have been researching marriages for over 40 years. They are so good, that after observing a couple in action for just a short time, they are able to predict whether that marriage will succeed or fail with over 90% accuracy.
How? Well, this is partially possible by being able to identify the “Four Horsemen” named after the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” out of the Book of Revelation in the Bible (yikes!). Yes, apparently these habits are that destructive. These Four Horsemen are the red flags that the Gottman’s take notice of when evaluating the potential success or demise of a marriage.
So what are they?
1. Criticism- Attacking at the core. You are damaged or you are a bad person, as opposed to what you’re doing is wrong and flawed. You or your partner feels assaulted, rejected, and hurt.
2. Defensiveness- Feeling unjustly accused, therefore, looking for excuses. Can to avoidance and lying in the relationship.
3. Stonewalling- When the listener withdraws and avoids interactions with their partner. Shutting down, tuning out, turning away, acting busy, or engaging in obsessive behaviors.
4. Contempt- When we communicate in this state, we are truly mean - treating others with disrespect, mocking them with sarcasm, ridicule, name-calling, mimicking, and/or body language such as eye-rolling. The target of contempt is made to feel despised and worthless.
The four habits will slowly, but surely tear away at your marriage, or any relationship in your life. You can begin to repair the damage that has been done by these habits by speaking gently, yet earnestly to your partner instead of constant criticism. Start taking responsibility with your words and actions to avoid finding yourself in situations where you feel attacked, and in turn, give your partner the opportunity to do the same before you go on the attack. Stop running away from difficult and uncomfortable situations and conversations with your partner. Instead, be a source of strength and dependability. Also, remember to speak to your partner with respect, and avoid ridiculing sarcasm and put-downs. Believe me, I know these aren't easy, especially when we are irritated, tired, and have had a long day. The alternative is much more difficult, so please, give these new habits a try.
For further reading, I recommend the following books by John Gottman (you will probably see a few well-worn copies on my shelf):
-The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work
-Why Marriages Succeed or Fail
-Raising An Emotionally Intelligent Child
Leana Sykes is a Relationship Counselor and the owner of Leana Sykes Relationship Counseling & Mediation in Oaklyn, NJ.