What causes divorce? Most people probably say adultery, fights about money, or dissatisfaction. Would you believe us if we told you that destructive communication could lead to divorce? It’s true. There are four aspects of communication that could end a marriage if a couple uses them continuously. John Gottman provides excellent assistance to married couples by teaching about The Four Horsemen.
Once you understand these problematic forms of communication and are willing to fix them, you and your spouse may be well on your way to a much healthier marriage.
What are the Four Horsemen of Marriage?
In the book of Revelation in the New Testament, there is a group used to symbolize the end of the world through, conquest, war, hunger, and death.
These are The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse that Gottman uses as a model for the base four harmful, communication methods in marriage. Here they are:
“You are always so rude to me when we’re talking about my emotions.”
“You always treat me like a child.”
“You never listen to me.”
Those are criticisms. Criticisms are attacks on another person’s character. Rather than lovingly critiquing something about your spouse, you attack them with a generalized statement, even if you’re just referring to one event, like not mowing the lawn or calling the bank like they said they would.
As seen, criticisms often use the words, “always” and “never.” Criticisms can make an individual feel ridiculed, falsely accused, and hurt. If this method of communication is consistent, it can cause a slippery slope, leading to the other four horsemen, like contempt.
Contempt is a big deal. When marriage counselors see couples treating each other with contempt, it shows that they could be on the brink of divorce.
When one treats their spouse with contempt, they demean or mock, are flippant and condescending, and they are just plain rude. And they do it on purpose. It is displayed by rolling eyes, scoffing, sneering.
Examples could be:
“You used to look good in that dress; now it looks awful after all the weight you’ve gained.”
“I can’t believe you can claim to be worn out. You probably sit at home all day watching TV while the kids play. I work hard all day in the heat. I’m the one who is tired.”
Contempt happens over time when one spouse focuses day in and day out on the negative characteristics of their spouse. When one is treated with contempt, they respond with defensiveness.
When a spouse feels attacked, they will usually defend themselves. Typically when one is acting defensively, they are not taking responsibility for their actions, but instead shift blame or whine.
When you choose to entertain defensiveness, you’re not genuinely listening to what your spouse is saying about your actions. Their statement could be accurate, even if they are not stating it in a respectful manner. Defensiveness is basically saying, “You think I’m bad? Well, look at all your junk.” All of these issues mentioned can lead to the next horseman.
Have you ever been in a fight with your spouse and they appear to be tuning you out, crossing their arms, mindlessly doing some busy work, or all of those at the same time? That’s what Gottman calls “stonewalling.” It’s infuriating, right?
People stonewall when they are in a type of psychological state that they can’t process all the emotions and feelings they are having. This action is very harmful because it leaves the other person feeling abandoned and alone.
Well, that sure was depressing! It looks like all of our marriages are doomed to fail, right? Wrong. Keep reading to find out ways to combat these four ugly horsemen that may be showing up in your marriage relationship.
How to Avoid the Four Horsemen
Complaining is allowed, but not the annoying kind that you might hear from your teenager when he is verbalizing his frustration when there’s “nothing” to eat. Making a complaint is focusing on the specific situation right in front of you, like the way your spouse might be loading the dishwasher. Of course, you and your spouse probably don’t fight about silly things like that, right? Your fights are much more serious and involve things like the way they eat or how much they snore–super serious things. Point out what is worrying you about your spouse, but do it without hurtful words or generalizing statements.
2. Choose to Appreciate
Rather than focusing on the negative qualities of our spouse, make it a goal to look for the good. Build up an appreciation for your spouse and let them know of it. Often. Verbalize it. Go out of your way to let them know you see their good qualities.
3. Humble Yourself
If your spouse is calling you out on something you did incorrectly, accept their complaint with humility. Try to see the situation from the other person’s perspective and how it made them feel. Another huge thing to do, which is truly and deeply hard, is to sincerely apologize. Admit to being wrong and say you’re sorry.
4. Time Out
When you’re in an argument, and it’s extremely heated and emotional, and you don’t know how to respond, calmly tell your spouse that you need to take a break to think things through and calm down before things get uglier. If you’re not in the place to finish a fight well, call a timeout.
There is Hope in All Marriages
We hope that as you read the above, you didn’t succumb to hopelessness and defeat that your marriage is going to end in divorce because you experience any of the horsemen in your marriage. Most likely, you probably see a few of the issues here and there, but not all the time.
Communication is a tricky thing, but if you start to look closely at how you communicate with your spouse and begin to make the appropriate changes, you should start seeing this part of your marriage get better.
If you have any questions on this topic, feel free to contact us at Third River Health. We’d be happy to be of any assistance that we can. Meanwhile, enjoy this video from The Gottman Institute on how to do better for each other: