Every marriage has its difficulties and challenges. We find ourselves fighting, disconnected and unable to understand one another. Every marriage and relationship goes through these challenges but how do you know when the fighting and the loss of connection have gone to a place of trouble. Through years of research, The Gottman Institute has found four communication styles that predict a marriage headed towards divorce. They call them "The Four Horsemen," pulling from the scriptural use of the term in the New Testament illustrating the end of times.
The Four Horsemen are as follows:
1. Criticism: These are attacks on a person's character and the entire person. They often involve using the words: always and never. For example: "You never think about me. You are always looking at your phone and don't care about anything else." It is important to clarify that we can make a complaint and be honest with our partner about how we are feeling, but that looks different from a criticism. For example: "When you look at your phone when I am talking to you, I feel ignored." Often our criticism started as understandable complaints that have been inflamed with hurt and become daggers, which are not effective if you want to be heard and understood.
2. Contempt: This is when someone feels that another is worthless. It often comes out in the form of "I am better than you, I am superior to you, and I have no respect for you." It basically communicates disgust of another. Out of all of the Horsemen, the Gottman Institute has found this one to be the most detrimental to a relationship. Dr. Gottman described contempt as the "sulfuric acid for love." It is masked in different ways: it can come out as sharp sarcasm, name calling, eye rolling, mockery etc.
3. Defensiveness: This often comes after feeling attacked. There's a reason for the defense. When we feel attacked, or accused, especially unjustly accused, we feel the need to protect ourselves. We can defend by making another attack or by justifying our actions and thinking. However, when we do this it looks like we are unwilling to listen and unwilling to take responsibility for ourselves and continues the negative interaction.
4. Stonewalling: This is the act of walling off the other person by shutting down, withdrawing or not responding. It is a way of escaping the interaction often because one partner feels overwhelmed by the conflict and just needs out. It can be understandable that one partner might have these feelings, but stonewalling is never an effective solution. The other partner usually escalates due to feeling ignored. It ends up creating a lot more pain and strife in the relationship.
Do you see any of these qualities on your relationship?
These are the signs that your marriage is in trouble. If you want to combat these qualities or be proactive in protecting your relationship from these qualities, read How To Connect.