By Eric Charles, MA., PhD-c
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“When she asked him whether it was true that love conquered all, as the songs said. ‘It is true’, he replied, ‘but you would do well not to believe it.” ~Gabriel Garcia Marquez
We would all like to believe that when we fall in love it will be forever. The truth is, love is a complicated and fluctuating emotion. It is not a super hero power that will conquer all of life’s problems. One has to treat love with respect and nourish it. By pruning the bad behaviors we can allow love to blossom and flourish. I wrote this post because I believe it is important for all of us to identify the behaviors that are deadly for our relationships.
Dr. John Gottman is a therapist who in 2007 was recognized as one of the most influential therapists of the past 25 years. He is a Professor Emeritus in Psychology who specializes in marital stability and relationship analysis. Based on several studies he conducted over the last 40 years he came up with 4 negative behaviors that can predict divorce if they are not corrected. Dr. Gottman refers to these harmful behaviors as the 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse. These 4 behaviors can and will slowly destroy your relationship. Daily verbal and non-verbal behaviors will erode the love that is sustaining the relationship until finally there is nothing left.
Here are the 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse
“What is wrong with you? Can’t you do anything right!? ~Unknown
Complaints are a natural and normal part of healthy relationships. One should be able to discuss a specific complaint with their partner and reach some sort of agreement. The type of criticism that is toxic and deadly to a relationship is when one person attacks the person’s character of the other instead of the behavior. This type of criticism will only add fuel to the argument because the person being attacked will more than likely attack back.
“The problem is not me, but you for always bringing up this issue.” ~Unknown
Defensiveness naturally occurs when a person feels they are being attacked. It is toxic in a relationship because instead of taking responsibility for the problem the person wards off the perceived attack by blaming the other person. The person will assume no responsibility for the problem even if they are obviously at fault. They will deflect by blaming the other party.
“Ok genius, the word is many… not much.” (correcting grammar during an argument in a mocking tone) ~Unknown
According to Gottman, this is the worst of the 4 Horseman. He has referred to it as “sulphuric acid for love.” Contempt in a marriage is the best predictor of divorce. A couple needs respect in the relationship in order for the relationship to thrive. Contempt is disrespectful and deadly for a relationship. The contemptuous person acts superior and may show their contempt by name calling, eye rolling, mocking or hostile humor. Furthermore, Gottman points out that contempt in a relationship is so destructive it can serve as a predictor of how many infectious illnesses a person will have in the next 4 years. Studies have shown that contempt diminishes the immune system and can cause physical manifestations in the body.
Stonewalling is a communicative shutdown. After the criticism, a person may refuse to engage. They are simply tuning out and building an imaginary wall around them during an argument. They will refuse to participate in the discussion in any way. They will not respond verbally or give any physical cues to acknowledge the argument. Many times the stonewaller will leave the argument without saying anything. Stonewalling can become a habit and a way to avoid all arguments.
This article is not meant to diagnose or to be a guide for self-diagnoses. The sole purpose of this article is strictly for educational purposes. If this sounds like you or someone you know please seek the help of a mental health professional.
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