Do you demonstrate any of these behaviors on a regular basis? Be careful!
According to a marriage study by the famous Gottman Institute, there are four behaviors that cause 80 percent of marital failures: the so-called “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” (a metaphorical reference to the four riders that will appear at the end of time, as seen in the New Testament, symbolizing conquest or pestilence, war, hunger, and death).
In this case, psychologist Dr. John Gottman uses this image to describe communication styles whose presence can predict the end of a relationship. These are criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling.
Of course, we do not have to remain silent when something bothers us or does not seem right, or when we disagree with something. It’s important that we share these things; otherwise, our spouse will have no real way of knowing that something is bothering us. The kind of criticism that Dr. Gottman describes as damaging is when we directly criticize our spouse – the person – rather than some particular facts or what he or she does. For example, it is not the same thing to tell your husband that it bothers you quite a bit when he leaves his dirty clothes lying around, as to say to him that he is stupid, deaf, dirty, untidy, and a pig because he does not put his clothes in the hamper. In the first scenario, the action is what is being criticized; in the second scenario, the criticism is aimed at the person.
Not only are the spouse’s actions disparaged; worse, the person is being constantly belittled. That is to say, one spouse rejects, humiliates, and mocks who the other spouse is, what he or she does, or what he or she is interested in. When we show contempt, we send the message that “I do not love you and I do not value you.” Just think of those people who constantly accuse their spouse of not having a good enough job, or of being stupid, unattractive, incapable, etc. — even worse if they constantly compare their spouse unfavorably to other people.
People who are constantly on the defensive have zero humility. They cannot grow because they cannot recognize their own mistakes. They only communicate to defend themselves, rather than to reach an agreement, exchange opinions, or listen to the other. As they don’t recognizes their own responsibility for problems, they focus exclusively on how to defend themselves and attack and blame their spouse instead.
This is what we are doing when we refuse to answer questions or when we give evasive answers. It’s the stance we sometimes take with our spouse where we send a message that says, “And …?” or “Whatever …” as if saying, “I don’t care, I’m not interested in what you think or feel, or in what you have to say; this is what I think, and my opinion or point of view is all that matters to me.” It would be quite different were we to say to our spouse, “I don’t agree with your way of thinking or with what you are saying, but we can talk about it and reach an agreement.”
Take notice of how you are talking to each other, and how well you are communicating with each other. If you see that a Horseman has made its way between you, work together to eliminate it, and replace the damaging habit of behavior with an appropriate attitude that will nourish your bond of love instead.