Are you familiar with The Four Horsemen of Relationship Apocalypse? Probably not. At least, not by that phrase. That term was coined by John Gottman who recognized 4 very obvious occurrences in relationships that compound and eventually kill relationships. To be fair, three of the four can and often times are found in healthy relationships. The fourth, however when it shows up in Gottman therapy, is very dangerous to maintaining a lasting and healthy relationship.
Today, I will not only share these four issues with you but also give you the antidote to each one! Remember, if one or more are present in your relationship, especially the last one, it may be time to find a marriage counselor and couples therapist for you and your partner. Couples in Brevard County, Florida can contact True You Always Counseling to learn more.
The Four Horsemen
It is not uncommon for couples to criticize each other. Especially when the couple has been together for some time. You begin to find things about your partner that irk you, things they do that bother you, or the stress of life grows heavier. When work, kids, and bills pile on stress and time for self-care dwindles you take out frustrations on your partner. It is a safe place. But sometimes it can be done intentionally, as a way to bring down the other person and to take a stance of superiority. This is when criticism becomes dangerous and it is often a seamless transition from doing so out of stress to doing it out of resentment.
How Does Gottman Therapy Define Criticism?
Criticism is when you down your partner as a person. Their beliefs, values, or something about them as a person. This is never beneficial and never yields the results you are looking for. If you have said, “You still haven’t done the dishes? Why are you so lazy?” That is a criticism. Or, “Why is the house still such a mess. What have you been doing all day?” The other person is going to instantly go into protection mode because they see this as an attack on them. Even when your intent is to complain about something external—dishes—it is coming across as complaining about them.
So, what should you do?
Complain! But complain about the actions—or lack thereof—and not the person. For instance, “I would really appreciate it if the dishes were washed when I got home so we could relax.” Or, “I feel better coming home to a clean house. It helps me decompress.” You may even put it more bluntly, “The kitchen is an absolute disaster. It would be nice if the dishes were washed.”
In each of these examples you are expressing the fact you want something done, but at no point are you criticizing the other individual? You are making your feelings known and making a point about what you want to be done without suggesting something is wrong with them but the situation. Remember, there is no such thing as helpful criticism. If the other person is the focus of the complaint—or what they are doing wrong—it is a criticism.
Use “I” Statements
If you utilize “I” statements and are specific with your requests, criticism does not become an issue. It is also helpful to point out what your partner does right rather than focusing only on the negatives. This makes it more likely your partner will follow through as well as validate your needs.
What happens when someone is criticized and feels attacked? They become defensive. They then return a criticism to you and you become defensive. Now you are on a carousel of criticisms and defensiveness and in no time the argument about the dishes becomes one about who has it rougher. Every misdeed through the relationship is brought back to light and before long no one knows what the argument is about. Each partner is in fight or flight.
It is rare that someone takes criticism without becoming defensive. Even if they do not externalize or show that defensiveness, it is there. If they hold it in, eventually they will blow and each tally is brought back up. The goal in defensiveness is typically to take the focus off of yourself and put it on the other person. “Yeah, but you…” These back-and-forth battles can cause a lot of tension within a relationship.
How Does Gottman Therapy Define Defensiveness?
Defensiveness is a normal reaction, however. If someone feels threatened or as though their character is under attack, they logically want to defend themselves. So, it is not a concern if defensiveness happens in the relationship, but if it happens often, there is a good chance it is not healthy. You should not feel like much of your relationship is spent defending yourself or justifying.
Some people struggle with the antidote to defensiveness. It can be challenging. But it is important that you own up to your own mistakes. Acknowledge the role you played in the situation. It is an opportunity to learn and grow from and try not to take criticism personally. This is challenging and often times feel unnatural, but it is very beneficial.
Who hasn’t needed a break once in a while? Especially when an argument gets heated. Needing, and even taking, breaks are not an issue. However, if you struggle to have difficult conversations and shut down during them, that is problematic. If you or your partner simply tune out, leave the house, or lock yourself in another room to avoid the conflict, it never gets resolved.
Feeling as though you are emotionally drowning can be an overwhelming experience. If you need time to regroup before continuing the conversation, by all means, do so. However, if you or your partner are prone to emotionally cut off from difficult conversations it is a good time to seek individual therapy or marriage counseling and couples therapy. In therapy, you can learn many techniques for self-soothing.
How Can Self-Soothing Help?
This is vital because this is the antidote to stonewalling. Self-soothing techniques are unique to you as an individual, so it is important to try different things as well as to have someone who can help guide you on techniques you may not be aware of. Some of the easiest ones would be to take a timeout. Tell your partner, “I know this is an important conversation, but I am feeling overwhelmed right now. Give me fifteen minutes to gather myself and we will continue the conversation.” But know, in fifteen minutes that conversation needs to continue. This is not a way to exit the situation.
You may also take a few minutes to go for a walk. Or, may try deep breathing exercises. An online therapist in Florida can introduce you to several methods of utilizing progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) to soothe yourself. You may even find that you need a couple of these in order to continue the conversation.
So, do you remember when I said three of these were found in normal and healthy relationships while one was a sign of disaster? Contempt is that sign. When contempt becomes present in a relationship it is often near the end. However, that does not mean that a relationship cannot be saved once contempt is present. However, it is important to work with a couple’s therapist in Florida to resolve the issues of contempt as soon as possible. Once contempt builds up to a certain point—which will be different for everyone—it is hard to find good qualities in your partner.
In a nutshell, contempt is showing any sign of aggression towards your partner. You can be angry with them, you can be fed up, and you can be frustrated. And you can let them know—in a healthy way—what you are experiencing. However, with contempt, you will use name-calling, eye-rolling, insult, or mock them. In contempt, every effort is made to come off as being the superior person in the relationship. What makes contempt so destructive is that you begin fixating on all that is wrong with your partner and your partner feels devalued, which in turn causes them to withdraw.
The #1 Tip Gottman Therapists Would Recommend in Gottman Therapy!
The best thing you can do in a relationship is to focus on the antidote to contempt. Because when you do that, you will criticize less, there is less opportunity for defensiveness to present, and no need to protect oneself with stonewalling. So, what is the antidote to contempt? You must create a culture of appreciation within the relationship.
Focus on the things the other person does well. Focus on the efforts they make to help out or do something nice for you. Show each other respect and appreciation. Find ways you can complement your partner and thank them when they compliment you. For a long-lasting and healthy relationship, there are few things that will be as impactful as having a culture of appreciation. When both you and your significant other feel loved and appreciated in the relationship, you naturally want to do more. You want to do more for the other person.
If you have had any number of these 4 horsemen present in your relationship for an extended time, particularly contempt, this can be quite challenging. It may even seem impossible. However, there is never a wrong time to find the good qualities in your partner.
Begin Gottman Therapy in Florida and Begin Connecting Better in Your Relationship!
Ready to heal your relationship and begin understanding one another better? If you feel your relationship needs a little makeover, marriage counseling and couples therapy in Brevard County, FL, or via online therapy in Florida could help.
- Call us at 321-613-8685 to get started. During your call, you can share what’s going on for you and ask us any questions you may have. Through understanding your needs we will help you choose the best Gottman therapist for you and schedule you for your first session.
- Call us for your first session today! We’re here to help you through.
- If you prefer, you can also fill out a contact form here. Then we will reach out to you within 24 business hours to get you started.
- Let’s make this happen for you! Get back to a life you enjoy and live free from what is holding you back.
Other Services Offered at True You Always
Here at True You Always, we offer many services with a wide range of therapists. We are here to walk alongside you no matter what you’re dealing with. Our goal is to provide a safe and accepting space for you to breathe and be your authentic self. Along with marriage counseling and couples therapy offered from a Gottman perspective, we offer additional services at our Florida practice. You may also be interested in therapy for first responders, therapy for work stress, anxiety, and stress treatment, or PTSD treatment and trauma therapy. Additionally, we offer couples therapy, family therapy, LGBTQIA+ therapy, therapy for disordered eating, therapy for teens and tweens, support for families with a loved one struggling with ED, therapy for adults, substance use disorders, therapy for spouses of first responders, play therapy, therapy for allergies, and chronic illness. All services are offered via online therapy in Florida so you can get help from the comfort of your own space.