What are the Four Horseman and Homework for Couples Therapy
If you know about Gottman Method Marriage Counseling, then you have probably also heard of the ‘Four Horsemen of The Apocalypse’ this helps couples and their counselors to identify what some of the common forms of communication symptoms that couples exhibit when they are in distress. Perhaps you are even using this couples therapy homework exercise as a part of marriage counseling. Let us examine what the horseman are, how they work, and what can be done differently in your relationship, this is important work as much like the biblical horsemen, the Gottman horsemen, do predict the ‘end-times.’ In relationship terms, that means that they can be used to predict the level of severity of the problems and even the likelihood of divorce! While any couple who reads of this will likely note that their relationship has used these defense mechanisms at times, in a healthy relationship, the defense mechanisms are usually disrupted with their healthier alternatives. Take our relationship wellness check up to see if your relationship makes the grade!
Criticism – It is easy to become critical, many of us are often self-critical and some are critical of our partner. When we are criticizing our partner, our intended message is often lost in translation. An example of a criticism might be, “You never do the dishes.” While it might be true that we observe our partners lack of doing the dishes, our partner probably sees it differently and will observe the attack happening and launch into a counter attack. Something like “Well at least I am sensitive!” or “Better than constantly complaining.” If you can imagine this sample exchange is galloping fast toward no place good! The antidote to criticism is to state your need and feeling clearly and in constructive terms. Something like, ‘I feel really overwhelmed with work right now and I really need some help with the dishes.’ Make a practice of pausing and thinking about what your underlying unmet feelings and needs are when you notice that you’re becoming critical. You partner will likely respond very differently to a clearly stated need compared to a criticism, and at the end of the day, that is the goal.
Can you think of 5 things that you have criticized your partner for and what are the healthier feelings and needs you were trying to express?
Defensiveness – This one is usually seen in response to a criticism or even a stated need, for example image that our partner brings a topic up, instead of trying to hear what they are saying and relating to what their experience is, we shut it down, become emotional and verbally attack and refuse to acknowledge what is being shared. Imagine if our partner says, “You are late so often.” A defensive response would be, “That is not true, I came home early yesterday!” Being accountable would urge us to imagine what is true about our partners statement? An accountable response would be, “I know I have been late a few times this week and I understand that its frustrating for you, I am sorry and I do want to work on it.” It is so very important to recognize that we make mistakes, we will do things in a way that sometimes irritates our partner but when they share those things, we need to be able to validate each other and take a lesson away from what is shared. Accountability is huge in relationship terms, it allows our partner to understand that we understand them and are willing to make changes to care about their thoughts, feelings, and needs.
Can you think of 2 times that you were defensive and come up with an accountable response instead?
Stonewalling is when we shut down. Externally a person who practices this defense mechanism may appear to be completely not present. Think ‘deer in the head light syndrome’, internally they are likely experiencing extreme hyperarousal. Sometimes the heart rates of those who are stonewalling crescendo well above 130 when in this state. This is not a time to problem solve we are in fight or flight when our heart rates are so high. The irony is that the speaker who observes stonewalling imagines that their partner is not caring at all, but the truth is they are flooded and cannot respond well. The way to disrupt this is to learn some self-soothing strategies that bring down the level of hyperarousal so that better communication can happen.
Can you think of 5 self-soothing strategies that will help you calm down when hyper-aroused?
Contempt In many ways this is a very significant defense mechanism because it quite accurately predicts divorce according to the Gottman’s research. Contempt is when instead of taking issue with something that has happened in the relationship we take issue with our partner in general. It is related to disgust and is a complete inability to see anything that is positive in the person who we once loved. An example of contempt might be if our partner shows up 10 minutes late and our response is, “You were born late and don’t take any thing seriously, no wonder you get written up at work.” In this kind of emotional atmosphere it is even statistically shown that people exhibit more cold and flu symptoms in relationship to the number of contemptuous comments made by their partner. The antidote is to cultivate and atmosphere of appreciation.
Appreciation and gratitude are vital balms to our loving bond. Can you share 5 things your appreciate about your partner?
If you’re wondering if marriage counseling can help your relationship, contact our receptionist to talk more about the options for counseling near you!