As an educator and therapist, I have found that students and clients crave discussion about relationships. It is important to spend time on this topic because as I have told many a classroom—who you choose to spend your life with is more important than your career, where you live, or what house you buy. It is essential to marry the person for who they are now and not their potential, or in other words, who you want them to be. A healthy partnership can help to make your life more fulfilling and easier. An unhealthy partnership can cause you incredible grief and financial hardship—not to mention the toll it has on children. Speaking of children, the best gift you can give your child is a healthy marriage (or partnership) with your child’s other parent.
Dr. John M. Gottman is the founder and director of the Gottman Institute and an emeritus professor of psychology at the University of Washington. He is a leading research scientist on marriage and family. By watching couples argue, he successfully predicts 90% of the time which couples will divorce. He believes that certain kinds of negativity will prove lethal to a relationship. He calls them the FOUR HORSEMEN of the Apocalypse. They are:
Horseman 1: Criticism. Complaint and criticism are different. A complaint focuses on a specific behavior. “I am really angry that you did not do the dishes tonight. We agreed we would take turns. Could you please do them now? Notice it has 3 parts—how you feel (1), the specific situation (2), and what you need (3). Criticism, on the other hand, is global and expresses negative feelings about a person’s character or personality: Why are you so lazy?
Horseman 2: Contempt. This arises from a sense of superiority over one’s partner. (Have you ever met a person that needs to feel better than someone else?) It is certainly a form of disrespect (and respect needs to be the foundation of a healthy partnership). It can involve name-calling, eye-rolling, mockery, hostile humor, and facial smearing. “You are a lazy idiot and you do not even know how to wash dishes!”
Horsemen 3. Defensiveness. Defensiveness escalates the conflict. Defensiveness is a way of blaming your partner. People often take the victim stance. “Why are you picking on me? Don’t you think I am tired when I get home from work? What about all of the yard work I do on the weekends? I can never please you!”
Horsemen 4. Stonewalling. With criticism, contempt, and defensiveness, eventually one partner tunes out. Instead of interacting, an unhappy partner may come home and watch TV or go in another room and play on a computer. Usually, the less responsive a partner is, the more the other one yells and tries to get their attention. One may disengage to avoid conflict, but this is also avoiding the marriage.
If you notice you and your partner engaging in these types of behaviors, it is important to seek professional help. Crossroads Counseling Center has qualified therapists to help you with your journey. Also, there are many readings and resources (please see our resource section on our webpage) that you can utilize in the privacy of your own home. With commitment, hard work, and the right help, relationships can improve.
Gottman, John (1999). The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work (2nd ed.). New York: Harmony
Dr. John Gottman You Tubes:
Making Marriage Work:
4 Negative Patterns That Predict Divorce: