Week 27′s Change Challenge: Conquer the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse
Premiere marriage therapist and researcher, Dr. John Gottman, has spent nearly 30 years studying marriages and what builds and destroys them. In his research he has discovered four negative patterns of communication that will predict disaster in a marriage unless confronted and changed. These “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse”, as Dr. Gottman named them are:
1. Criticism: Negative communication which attacks the character of your spouse.
2. Contempt: Communication which portrays disgust toward your spouse and an air of superiority.
3. Defensiveness: Tends to be a reaction against criticism; however, defensiveness is destructive in its own right. Conveys that you are an innocent victim while your spouse is the one responsible for the conflict.
4. Stonewalling: Tends to be a reaction against contempt. Stonewalling occurs when one spouse shuts off communication and conveys that he is closing himself off from his spouse.
This week’s change challenge is to build awareness to the negative patterns of communication you may perpetuate in your relationships and to do the hard work of owning them and then changing them.
The Antidotes to the Four Horsemen:
1. Learn how to express a complaint instead of a criticism. A complaint focuses in on specific behavior and how it affects you rather than an overarching attack on your spouse’s character.
Ex. Complaint: I’m frustrated right now because you didn’t empty the dishwasher this morning like you told me you would. It’s frustrating to me when you don’t follow through with what you said you would do.
Criticism: You never do what you say you’re doing to do! What is wrong with you?
2. Negative thoughts about your spouse always precedes contempt. Be aware of your thoughts: do you think your spouse is stupid, lazy, thoughtless, etc.? Change those negative thoughts to positive ones – what are some things you can genuinely appreciate and praise your spouse for? What does he or she do well. Think upon those things and express them. Remember: you are not perfect and the measure of all of perfection (said with tongue firmly in cheek).
3. The alternative to defensiveness is responsibility. Each of us has the responsibility of some part in a conflict whether we acknowledge it or not. Take that step back and ask yourself, “What part did I play in this conflict?”
4. The alternative to stonewalling is responsiveness. If you feel yourself heading toward stonewalling, communicate that to your spouse. Take a few deep breaths, and try to remain present in the interaction. Some conflicts and discussions are extremely difficult and frustrating, but remaining present and responsive to your spouse is important.
Try these antidotes this week and give us some feedback if you notice a change in your relationship, or in your own thought patterns.
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