Every relationship, even the most successful ones, will have times when conflicts arise. So what do you and your partner do when this occurs? Fortunately, research shows that it’s not the appearance of conflict, but rather how it’s managed that predicts the success or failure of a relationship. The world’s most renowned experts on marriage and resolving marital conflict, are John and Julie Gottman, out of the University of Washington. After nearly 40 years of doing research and observing thousands of couples, they developed the 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse to help couples manage relationship conflicts. The 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse are the four most common predictors of divorce in any relationship.
Those four things are:
Awareness of the 4 Horsemen allows couples to effectively overcome conflict healthily. The antidotes allow for proper repair attempts in the middle of an argument and help provide closure from discord. Let’s look at what each of these 4 Horsemen means and possible antidotes for overcoming and avoiding them altogether.
Verbally attacking your partner’s character or personality to make yourself right and make them wrong in the process. This is all about winning the argument instead of solving the conflict. This often involves generalized “you” statements such as “you always” and “you never” as well as phrases like “why are you so…” or “you’re the type of person who…”
Attacking your partner’s sense of self to insult or psychologically abuse him/her. This can look like:
- Insults and name-calling: “bitch, bastard, wimp, fat, stupid, ugly, slob, lazy…”
- Hostile humor, sarcasm, or mockery.
- Body language & tone of voice: sneering, rolling your eyes, curling your upper lip.
Victimizing yourself to ward off a perceived attack and reverse blame.
- Making excuses (e.g., external circumstances beyond your control forced you to act in a certain way) “It’s not my fault…”, “I didn’t…”
- Cross-complaining: meeting your partner’s complaint, or criticism with a complaint of your own, ignoring what your partner said.
- Disagreeing and cross-complaining “That’s not true, you’re the one who …” “I did this because you did that…”
- Yes-butting: start off agreeing but end up disagreeing.
- Repeating yourself without paying attention to what the other person is saying.
- Whining: “It’s not fair.”
Withdrawing from the relationship as a way to avoid conflict. Partners may think they are trying to be “neutral” but stonewalling conveys disapproval, icy distance, separation, disconnection, and/or smugness:
- Stony silence
- Monosyllabic mutterings
- Changing the subject
- Removing yourself physically
- Silent Treatment
None of the horsemen are predictors of divorce on their own. Some are bound to pop in from time to time.
Whether you both want to stay married or go your separate ways, living with any of the four running around untamed can be taxing and contribute to a toxic relationship. You deserve wholeness and healing.
Finding yourself Remedies:
- – Learn to make specific complaints & requests. An example:
- when X happened, I felt Y, I want Z
- – Conscious communication: Speaking the unarguable truth & listening generously.
- – Validate your partner
- let your partner know what makes sense to you about what they are saying; let them know you understand what they are feeling. Try to see the situation through their eyes.
- – Shift to appreciation
- 5 times as many positive feelings & interactions as negative ones.
- – Claim responsibility: “What can I learn from this?” & “What can I do about it?”
- – Re-write your inner script
- replace thoughts of righteous indignation or innocent victimization with thoughts of appreciation, and responsibility that are soothing & validating.
- – Practice getting undefended
- allowing your partner’s utterances to be what they are: just thoughts and puffs of air and letting go of the stories that you are making up.
Being aware of the 4 Horsemen in our own lives and making a conscious effort to avoid them is to make a step in the direction of increasing communication. Doing your best to make the associated remedy a habit will also help in building trust and intimacy within your relationship.
Remember that life is all about relationships! We were not meant to be alone and be on our own islands! We need other people to survive and to help us through this crazy life, so if we can be motivated enough to use some healthy communication skills and better get along with each other, then our lives and the lives of those around us will drastically change for the better. Healthy communication is also contagious, so the more you show what a good, healthy communicator looks like to your loved one, the more they will use this example in their lives as well! Do your best to be the change that you want to see in the world! I hope this helps you in your quest to become a master of marriage or relationships!
© Bob & Marlene Neufeld and Mary Ann Carmichael, 2005; www.marleneandbob.com
based on Gottman, John. 1994. Why Marriages Succeed or Fail