The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse
Dr. Gottman uses this metaphor depicting the end of times in the New Testament as a way of describing the serious impact that these communication styles have on a marriage. These four negative communication styles, according to Dr. Gottman’s research, are the predictors of the end of a relationship.
Left unchecked, these communication styles erode the relationship little by little, and couples who fall into these patterns rarely feel as thought they resolve any of their conflicts. It seems as thought they simply can’t talk about anything with an argument.
The fact is that couples have conflict.
The goal of couples counseling, from my perspective , is not to end conflict. I think that’s a bar that’s unreachable. The goal is to learn how to manage conflict, to be able to communicate your point effectively, and to be able to hear your partners point of view. When the four horsemen are being used, nobody can hear anybody.
The four horsemen are criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling. In the next few blog posts I’ll be talking a little about each one of these individually, with a tip or two for how to use this knowledge.
The first horseman of the apocalypse is criticism. Criticizing your partner is different than complaining. In a sense what we need to do in Gottman couples counseling is teach ourselves how to “complain well”. The purpose of learning to use a soft start-up and other methods is to that our intentions can actually have a chance to be heard by our partners.
The way we use this tool in counseling is simple, but not easy-I call it out when I hear it. I often ask “can I press pause here” and coach my clients on a kinder, gentler approach to express their feelings, along with a definable, reachable ask for the partner. In Gottman language we call this either a soft start-up or a repair. Simply complaining about something, without a definable request for what you want, is likely to sound like criticism.
Couples Counseling Mountainside
Chuck Beardsley, LCSW is a level-3 Gottman couples counselor, and is a level 3 Relational Life Counselor. Chuck utilizes Mindfulness, ACT, and other contemplative practices in his work with individuals and couples.
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