When Dr. John Gottman was working to discover the predictors of divorce, he discovered dangerous patterns of relating that he labeled the four horsemen of the apocalypse. These negative patterns were, Criticism, Stonewalling, Defensiveness and Contempt. The four horsemen represent the punishing behavior patterns that contribute to the demise of many relationships.
Punishing behavior creates a lack of safety in a relationship. When there safety is lacking in the relationship, couples tend to pull back, lose trust and become less willing to be vulnerable with each other. This lack of trust and vulnerability in the relationship erodes their sense of connection. Without a sense of connection it is difficult to be fully invested in the relationship. And so the downward spiral begins.
However at any moment in time, couples can begin to change the direction of that spiral, by infusing their relationship with some positive energy. Positive energy, compliments, noticing each other’s strengths, focusing on what is going right and smiling, helps to return safety to the relationship. When they are feeling safe in the relationship, they will be much more willing to be vulnerable with each other. Their sense of connection will start to return. And the upward spiral will begin.
Couples can begin moving toward joy, rather than misery in their relationship, by simply changing these patterns. It may be simple, but it not necessarily easy. It may mean getting out of your own way. It is possible that negative habits are strongly entrenched in your relationship.
I have been witnessed couples completely turn their relationship around; sometimes they begin by pretending that they like each other. To reduce the effect of the four horsemen on your relationship, try actively replacing the negative pattern with a more positive approach.
Try replacing criticism with sincere compliments. It helps to change the focus from what is wrong with my partner and my relationship to what is great about my partner and our relationship.
Replace stonewalling with vulnerability. Being vulnerable can be a scary proposition for many. Try using active listening, validation and expressing thoughts, feelings and opinions assertively and respectfully.
Replace defensiveness with curiosity. Curiosity means trying to understand, rather than taking offense or taking turns throwing blame.
Replace contempt with acceptance. Accept that there are two of you and that each is unique and that is great. Accept that differences are growth opportunities. All people deserve to have their thoughts, feelings and opinions respected.
Taking the four horsemen out of your relationship greatly increases your chance of having a relationship worth committing to.