The Four Horsemen

Relationship problemsMy spouse and I aren’t treating each other very well lately and I think it has to do with how we talk to one another. Neither of us feel good after a “talk” and it’s not very loving. Can you help us understand what’s going on, and teach us how to fix it?

Geeze, this is a tough one. So many couples seek therapy in Bethesda for these same complaints– you feel distant, your words can be mean, and conversations veer into the “red zone” way too quickly. Dr. John Gottman, a relationship researcher, calls these kinds of destructive communication patterns The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse because their presence heralds relationship deterioration. We’ve talked about criticism in a previous post, and there are three more: contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling.

The good news is that each of the Four Horsemen has a healthy, relationship-building antidote. For criticism, it’s to soften the complaint by focusing on your feelings using ‘I’ statements. For contempt, it’s treating each other with respect and building a culture of appreciation. For defensiveness, it’s owning up for your part in the conflict and sharing responsibility. And for stonewalling, it’s to take a time out to self-soothe before resuming the conversation.

Here’s an awesome video by The Gottman Institute that illustrates the Four Horsemen in action and explains how to use their antidotes instead:

Do you and your partner struggle with the Four Horsemen? Do you know a couple that could use help learning their antidotes? If so, we hope you forward this post. Couples therapy in Bethesda MD helps spouses identify unhealthy patterns and learn communication skills that help them repair and enrich their marriage.