“The Four Horseman of the Apocalypse”

John Gottman, Ph.D., is unique in his depthful, long-term, quantifiable research on the art and science relationship.

Drawing on more than three decades of research and counseling couples, Gottman highlights four behaviors that undermine a relationship faster than any other. These are:

  1. Criticism
    This focuses on attacking your partner's character rather than focusing on the particular behavior that troubles you. It's fine to disagree about things, what's important is how you communicate in these times of difference.

  2. Contempt
    Contempt is an open display of disrespect, an amplification of criticism. Examples are eye-rolling, sneering, or back-handed humor.

  3. Defensiveness
    It can be a natural, automatic response in times of conflict to become defensive—but it is not help to relationship. Rationalizing (making excuses), blaming (denying responsibility), and counter attacking (meeting one complaint with another) are examples of this.

  4. Stonewalling
    Simply refusing to respond, especially during conflict, can be very destructive. When a person stonewalls, they are effectively withdrawing themselves from the relationship rather than seeking to resolve the issue at hand. Men tend to do this more often than women.

These behaviors can occur at some point in most relationships. When they are frequent, a relationship has a high likelihood of failing. Address them together, get the support of therapy, and the inevitable is avoidable!

Where and how do we learn to love?

The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves, and not to twist them to fit our own image. Otherwise we love only the reflection of ourselves we find
in them.

Thomas Merton

Each of us develops any number of interests, skills, abilities, and areas of expertise as we grow and age. Whether at work or at play, we discover areas of interest that we wish to expand.

We may go to workshops, seek the counsel of experts or mentors, read books, talk with friends, and more. We are willing to learn. We don't expect ourselves to innately know to create an Excel spreadsheet, train for a marathon, play the guitar, or speak confidently in public.

Yet in the arena of relationship, of love, we have high expectations of ourselves. We expect that we should know how to make our relationships work, and that if we can't, we are failures.

Yet, where did we learn to love? Who modeled successful relationship for us? Before we had the ability, the organic brain capacity, for critical thought and discernement, we downloaded the template of our parents' relationship (or primary caregivers') as the way it should be done.

Learning how to love only by watching others is like learning a language by only listening to the radio. Even if it's possible, it's a long, painstaking journey, fraught with misinterpretations. It's far more effective to learn by doing, and to do so with caring support.

Couples can develop a high tolerance for pain, enduring unhappy relationships for an average of six years before seeking help. It can become too late but it's never too early to get support and create the relationship you want.