According to John Gottman, there are 4 predictors of divorce. He refers to them as the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse. He also graciously offers antidotes for each one.
Attacking your partner’s personality or character, usually with the intent of making someone right and someone wrong:
Generalizations: “you always…” “you never…” “you’re the type of person who …” “why are you so …”
Antidote to criticism:
Use a gentle start up. Start with an “I” message. “I feel __________ when you ______. I need you to ____________.”
2. Contempt (this is the most destructive one.)
Attacking your partner’s sense of self with the intention to insult or psychologically abuse him/her:
- Insults and name-calling: “bitch, bastard, wimp, fat, stupid, ugly, slob, lazy…”
- Hostile humor, sarcasm or mockery
- Body language & tone of voice: sneering, rolling your eyes, curling your upper lip
Antidote to contempt:
Claim responsibility. “What can I learn from this? What can I do to make it better?”
Validate your partner. Let your partner know what makes sense to you about what they are saying; let them know you understand what they are feeling, see through their eyes.
Seeing self as the victim, warding off a perceived attack:
- Making excuses (e.g., external circumstances beyond your control forced you to act in a certain way) “It’s not my fault…”, “I didn’t…”
- Cross-complaining: meeting your partner’s complaint, or criticism with a complaint of your own, ignoring what your partner said
- Disagreeing and then cross-complaining “That’s not true, you’re the one who …” “I did this because you did that…”
- Yes-butting: start off agreeing but end up disagreeing
- Repeating yourself without paying attention to what the other person is saying
- Whining “It’s not fair.”
Antidote to defensiveness:
Practice getting undefended. Allow your partner’s utterances to be what they really are: just thoughts and puffs of air. Let go of the stories that you are making up.
Withdrawing from the relationship as a way to avoid conflict. Partners may think they are trying to be “neutral” but stonewalling conveys disapproval, icy distance, separation, disconnection, and/or smugness:
- Stony silence
- Monosyllabic mutterings
- Changing the subject
- Removing yourself physically
- Silent Treatment
Antidote to Stonewalling:
Re-write your inner script. Replace thoughts of righteous indignation or innocent victimization with thoughts of appreciation, responsibility that are soothing & validating.
Remember that you chose your partner and you are on the same team. If you feel you are not being heard by your partner, chances are, they are feeling the same way. Slow down and don’t get sucked into the fight. Focus on the feelings that your partner is experiencing and steer clear of the four horseman. They are the end of your marriage.