The Gottman Institute, known for being one of the foremost organizations on research-based approaches to successful relationships, said that the following are the Four Horsemen of Divorce:
- Criticism is all about using ad hominem attacks to tear down your partner instead of encouraging words to build them up from a place of love and wanting the best for them.
- Contempt is all about treating our partners with disrespect, ridiculing them both in private and public, mocking them with sarcasm, calling them hurtful names, or behaving in ways that hurt them, like rolling our eyes or scoffing at them.
- Stonewalling is the usual response to contempt. It’s when we withdraw from our partners, shut down, or just straight up stop responding to them instead of facing confrontation like an emotionally healthy and mature adult.
- Defensiveness is all about automatically going on warrior mode when we are criticized. It’s when we make excuses, minimize the other’s pain, or play the victim whenever we feel unfairly accused.
All relationships experience one or two of these things because no relationship or marriage is perfect. But when you find that your day-to-day life is marked by all these things at all times, then this might be a sign that your relationship is headed for a breakdown.
If you want your marriage to work and last forever, you need to be proactive about it and fight for it so that you can avoid these four markers. Here are some tips for avoiding the four horsemen of divorce.
The antidote to criticism: If you want something to change, speak from a place of love and encouragement
When we’re frustrated, we tend to give in to our frustration and speak out of turn. But speaking words that tear down instead of building up will not solve anything. If you truly want your relationship or marriage to work, the words you speak should come from a place of sincerity and desire to see them be the best they can be. You can always speak up about behaviors and attitudes that upset you. Still, you need to ensure that it’s valid and that you are speaking up about your feelings and not implying that there is something inherently wrong with your partner. Anything that needs to be said can be said—as long as you do so with love, gentleness, and empathy.
The antidote to contempt: Gain an awareness of your feelings and triggers
The reason that we act out of contempt is that we have no awareness of what triggers us. Sometimes, our partner would do or say something that hurts us without doing it on purpose, and we react disproportionately and start acting like our partner is the enemy. To combat this, gain a deeper insight into what upsets you, and find ways to hold your partner in warm regard even during a conflict. Make respect the cornerstone of your view of them.
The antidote to stonewalling: Break harmful patterns and re-establish intimacy
If you are starting to feel emotionally flooded during a fight, communicate with your partner that you need a time out, so you don’t just shut down without their knowledge or understanding of what’s happening to you. And then use communication to re-establish trust and intimacy in all areas of your life—from your emotional connection to even your sexual one. You can work with professionals to achieve this, from relationship therapists to helping your partner undergo shockwave therapy treatment if this is an issue in the relationship. Whatever the problem may be, find ways to stay connected and remember that you are on the same side.
The antidote to defensiveness: Learn not to take everything personally
When talking with your partner, be active in your listening. Make sure that you hear every word that is said because it might not be an attack on you personally. Before you react, ask your partner again about what they said and if they could elaborate further. Once they’ve said it, think of the parts where you need to shoulder some responsibility. Fight the urge to deny all charges. Instead, ask questions like, “How can I help you with this? What can I learn from it, and what can I do about it?”
The Bottom Line
A good romantic relationship can go a long way in keeping us emotionally and even physically healthy. But it doesn’t just happen—it will take hard work and commitment from both sides, but the results are certainly worth it.