Watch Dr. Sylvia Gearing describe the four horsemen for marriage from marriage expert Dr. John Gottman's research - click here.
There are always signs when a marriage is headed to divorce.
Dr. John Gottman, one of the world’s leading marriage experts, has identified four negative communication habits that usually mean the end is near. His decades of marital research and therapy have found that although defeating the four horsemen won’t entirely solve your marital problems, they are a big step towards repairing your marriage and living happily ever after.
The first horseman is Criticism. Criticism is not only expressing your unhappiness about a situation but using it to emotionally assault your partner. A temporary frustration becomes a lifelong character flaw; a minor miscommunication becomes an intentional attack. Instead of using neutral language and focusing on what needs to be done, comments focus on how one partner is at fault and use negative language to describe what is wrong with them.
The second horseman is Contempt. As you probably suspect, contempt uses heavy doses of sarcasm, name-calling, and character assassination. You may hear phrases such as “Can’t you do anything right?” or “Do you have some kind of mental problem?” Contempt frames every event as either a failure or par for the course – there are no true victories and the other partner can never win. It fundamentally changes the playing field of the marriage since it elevates one partner over the other instead of keeping you and your partner allied and equal in the marriage.
The third horseman is Defensiveness. Defensiveness is usually a response to the last two horsemen, criticism and contempt, and often is a last ditch effort to end the verbal attacks. Dr. Gottman finds that defensiveness can include righteous indignation, launching counterattacks, whining, or acting like an innocent victim. However, research has found that defensiveness doesn’t necessarily end the conflict and it can even escalate the tension.
This often leads to the fourth and final horseman, Stonewalling. Most couples think that stonewalling is caused by indifference or anger, but it is often cause by overwhelming emotions. When one partner is flooded with emotions and cannot process everything they are feeling, they short circuit and often stop actively listening and participating. They become completely blank in an effort to calm down and regain control. The other partner can only see the lack of responsiveness and they often give up hope about resolving the situation.
Dr. Gottman’s four horsemen are very serious marital issues. If you think you or someone you know may be suffering from these signs of marital conflict, please seek the assistance of a clinical psychologist.
"What Makes Love Last?" by Dr. John Gottman and Nan Silver