Remedies to the Four Horsemen (Part 1)

To understand  John Gottman’s research  on why marriage succeed, you must familiarize yourself with the outcome on his research on the signs a couple will likely divorce.  Observing the  Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse in the couples Gottman and his team interviewed enabled him to boast of 91-94% accuracy rate in predicting divorce.  Here you’ll learn to spot them  and how to prevent them taking  root in your marriage.  The four horsemen are criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling. Today we’ll look at the first two of the four—criticism and contempt.

Gottman defines “criticism” as attacking your partner’s personality or character, usually with the intent of proving someone right and the other wrong.  Generalizations such as “You always…”, “You never…, ” “You’re the type of person who…”, “Why are you so…” pave the critical road. Criticism leaves the other party feeling attacked.  Unless the partner is exceptionally self-controlled the criticism invites a, “Well you’re not so perfect yourself” response.  This unproductive  tit-for-tat exchange leads to frustration and lack of problem resolution, often transitioning into the next horseman, which is “contempt”.

Contempt is attacking your partner’s sense of self with the intention to insult or psychologically abuse him or her.  The contemptuous bag of tricks includes insults and name-calling; hostile humor, sarcasm or mockery; and disrespectful body language and tone of voice, including sneering, rolling your eyes, curling your upper lip, etc.  Believing one is superior to one’s partner is the root of contemptuous behavior.  This air of superiority, as Gottman describes it, is like sulphuric acid for love”.  Love requires respect.  Not only is contemptuous behavior lethal for your marriage, it is deadly for your body as well.  Studies show that living with contempt in a relationships erodes the immune system.

But don’t lose hope.  The climb to a healthier marriage is less steep than you think.

Complaining well remediates “criticism” from your relationship.  Explain your concerns and request what you want by saying, “When _____ happened, I felt ___, “ or “I want ____.”  Uncharitably criticizing  or stuffing conflictual  feelings infect a relationship: 180 degrees from sick is still sick.  Healthy couples learn how to handle disagreements and delicate situations with respect and grace through practice and trial and error.

Gottman cites “contempt” as one of the dangerous signs most affiliated with divorce.  However, as Catholics this doesn’t have to be with our arsenal of resources from the Catholic Church.

Contemptuous relationships flag deeper spiritual and emotional problems that require spiritual and emotional assistance.  A renewed prayer and sacramental life inject  needed grace into a marriage in trouble.  Counsel with a competent, marriage-friendly therapist or spiritual mature friend provides perspective needed to work around our blindspots under the fatigue of an abusive relationship.  Good self-care offsets the attacks on the immune system inherent in a contemptuous relationship.

Tune in next time to learn more about the last two horseman and  how to keep them at bay.

The Catholic Women’s Guide to Healthy Relationships Tip:  Periodically, evaluate your relationships so you can make proactive changes.