By: Tim Gilleand, M.A.
Marriage counseling can be helpful for a variety of reasons. Most often, couples consider marriage counseling when their relationship feels more often like a burden than a blessing. If you are wondering whether marriage counseling should be in your future, here are a few common signs. Dr. John Gottman, a psychologist and researcher, has identified four killers of marriages he calls the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse,” which include: criticism, defensiveness, contempt, and stonewalling.
Criticism is when we pick on the way our partner does things. Lisa Lund, a certified Gottman therapist, says, “When you criticize your partner you are basically implying that there is something wrong with them” (Gottman’s Four Horsemen, 2018). Criticism will lead to self-doubt, resentment, and anger.
Defensiveness is a natural response to criticism. Often times in counseling I tell people that our natural responses can get us in trouble. To do life better we may have to try things that feel unnatural in the beginning. Not becoming immediately defensive is one of those unnatural responses we may need to learn.
Contempt is like criticism but with a level of hate or anger added into it. Instead of saying, “I don’t like the way you’re doing the dishes,” perhaps we say, “What a stupid way of doing that. You are such an idiot.” Lund calls contempt the most serious of all four horsemen. It also includes non-verbals like eye-rolling or mocking gestures.
The final horseman is stonewalling. This is when we go off and just don’t talk about it, ever. Sometimes this is out of anger and sometimes it is because the person needs time to think before addressing the issue. There are at least two types of people in conflict – those that want to hammer it out right then and there, and those that need space and time to process first. ‘Cool off and come back’ is a great technique and necessary for some personalities, except for those who do not come back. That is when it can become stonewalling.
How to Cure a Cancerous Relationship
I tend to think of the “Four Horsemen” like the stages of a cancerous relationship. If you have one of the four, you are Stage 1 – still serious. It will take some work, but very treatable. Two of the four – you are Stage 2. Three of the four, Stage 3. And with all four present your relationship is terminal if it is not immediately and intensely treated. The good news is I have personally watched many couples who started counseling at “Stage 4” implement successful communication techniques and make lasting change.
If you see criticism, defensiveness, contempt, or stonewalling present in your marriage it is time to contact a professional who can help you initiate the work necessary to undo these harmful behaviors. Contact us at Crosswinds today to get started putting your relationship back together.
Gottman’s Four Horsemen predict Divorce. Retrieved May 30, 2018 from