CRAIG CARLSON PH.D | PH:858.755.2359 | SAN DIEGO, CA | INFO@CRAIGCARLSONPHD.COM

Counseling for Marriage Family Marital Therapist

Did you know?

Unseating the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

In his book Why Marriages Succeed or Fail, John Gottman identifies four characteristics of marriages that signal the marriage is beginning to deteriorate. 

These four characteristics are:

  • Criticism
  • Contempt
  • Defensiveness
  • Stonewalling

Since these four characteristics impede communication and prevent the positive from asserting itself in the relationship, our series will begin right away with lessening their impact.

In your relationships you may find that the four horsemen rarely if ever appear.  If this is so, simply enjoy the benefits of releasing these non-coherent patterns to an even greater degree.  If, on the other hand, the four horsemen are running roughshod through your life, take heart!  We are about to unseat them.

Criticism

Criticism (personality attack) often crawls in when complaints (objective statements of unmet needs) have 'fallen upon deaf ears.'  Unlike criticism, complaints are statements of personal reality (I am disappointed we're not going to have dinner together tonight; I was looking forward to being with you.) Complaints do not target the shortcomings of the other party, whereas criticism does this expressly.  (You're always spending time with your friends and completely forgetting about me and what I go through for you.)

When dealing with criticism, the receiver is left in the awkward position of having to take a personal hit, often times below the belt, or appear defensive.  Since criticism is aimed at the character of a person, it is extremely damaging to the relationship.

Intentions and Possibilities

  • When you express displeasure, do you make a complaint?
  • In what areas of your life would you like to communicate your personal reality (via a complaint) rather than rely on character assassination (via criticism)?

As with all interactive areas in the series, you are welcome to submit statements which reflect your personal experience.  When the session is being done, those statements which accurately reflect the energy of the group will be used anonymously, allowing us all to shift to greater harmony and unification.

Challenges and Growth Opportunities

  • When do you fall (or have you fallen) into the trap of criticizing?
  • Is there a particular person with whom you interact in this pattern?
  • What payoff do you get when you are criticizing?  Do you feel relieved, justified, vindicated, excused from relating?
  • Whom have you witnessed criticizing from your childhood?  What characteristics did this person exhibit and what was the outcome of the criticism? Do you have any of these characteristics?
  • Whom have you witnessed being criticized?  What characteristics did this person exhibit and what ws the outcome of the criticism?  Do you have any of these characteristics?

Contempt

Contempt, perhaps somewhat self explanatory, often runs in on the heels of criticism.  While criticism isn't nearly the productive communication tool we wish it were, it is often the one resorted to -- especially if it was the primary communication method that was modeled for us.  When criticism fails to work, (and it always does,) we often become even less enamored of our former dear one.  As our ineffectiveness to bring about the outcome we desire becomes more and more apparent, our partner bears an ever increasing burden for us as contempt becomes more and more prominent.  You can recognize contempt by the undercurrent of hostility and the appearance of name-calling.

The antidote for contempt is respect and connection.  By staying connected, to ourselves and then to our partners, we are able to maintain our humility and love.   By providing a 5:1 ratio of positive strokes and connecting  measures to 'growth opportunities,' relationships stay healthy and grow.

Intentions and Possibilities

  • How often do you express admiration for your partner?  Is this received as admiration by your partner?
  • Are you able to take in admiration from your partner?
  • How are you connecting with your partner in positive and restorative ways?   Or, how would you like to be?
  • Are there any situations you would like to get through without falling prey to receiving or dispensing contempt?

Challenges and Growth Opportunities

  • When do you fall (or have you fallen) into the trap of contempt?  How is it triggered?
  • Is there a particular person with whom you interact in this pattern? What payoff do you get when you are contemptuous?  IE Do you feel relieved, justified, vindicated, excused from relating?
  • Whom have you witnessed displaying contempt from your childhood?  What characteristics did this person exhibit and what was the outcome of the display of contempt?  Do you have any of these characteristics?
  • Whom have you witnessed on the receiving end of contempt? What characteristics did this person exhibit and what was the outcome of the interaction? Do you have any of these characteristics?

Defensiveness

If you're on the end of criticism and contempt, chances are, you've gotten a bit defensive!  And if, by chance, you're the one dishing out the criticism and contempt, you're probably on the defensive as well.

When on the defensive, several unfortunate behaviors result.  The remedy: stay connected, listen well, understand that the intensity of you and your partner's attacks indicates the depth of shared pain. Know that you will make it through this.

Intentions and Possibilities

  • In what situations would you like to remain neutral, connected, and calm?

Challenges and Growth Opportunities

  • What from of defensiveness do you recognize within yourself: denying responsibility,  making excuses, disagreeing with what you imagine your partner will say, playing one-upmanship with complaints, saying 'yes' followed immediately with 'but,' repeating yourself, or whining?
  • In what situations are you triggered into this behavior?
  • What payoff do you get?  IE Do you feel relieved, justified, vindicated, excused from relating?

Stonewalling

Stonewalling is one sure fire way to end the discussion.  Unfortunately, while most men, due to their upbringing, see this as the safest retreat to keep everything intact; most women, also due to their upbringing, see this as a great and personal insult.

Many times when the four horsemen are rampaging through a relationship, the fight or flight reflex is alive and well.  For men, their heart rate jumps when criticism appears on the scene.  For women, it is when contempt appears.  If the heart rate is up and the blood is pumping and the biological defense mechanism remains triggered without some form of connection or repair, the intensity becomes too great to continue without some form of physical expression.  Stonewalling is often resorted to simply to 'walk away' from a situation that could get exponentially worse.

Intentions and Possibilities

  • If you or your partner have resorted to stonewalling in the past, what would you like to have happen in the future?
  • How tolerant are you of stonewalling

Challenges and Growth Opportunities

  • How do you respond when you are stonewalling your partner?
  • How do you respond when your partner is stonewalling you?
  • Where have you witnessed this before?  What were the characteristics of the people involved and what was the outcome?