You’ve noticed that there’s been more tension in the house lately.
It just seems as if neither of you is seeing things the same way anymore.
There haven’t been full-blown fights, although they used to occur more frequently in the past. Now, there’s the under-the-breath comments and criticism.
When you try to bring up an issue with your partner, they become standoffish. In fact, sometimes they leave the room entirely without saying a word.
What could possibly be going on?
The answer is that you are experiencing what Dr. John Gottman calls the “Four Horsemen of the Relationship Apocalypse.”
If left unaddressed, the following problems will certainly lead to the end of your relationship.
1. Criticizing Your Partner’s Character
The first of the four horsemen is criticism.
Now, admittedly, we probably all have had to face criticism in either our professional or personal lives. However, this kind of criticism is different.
When your partner is critical, they are not trying to provide advice on how you can improve. Nor are they offering useful suggestions. Instead, their criticism cuts to the very core of who you are. In essence, your partner is attacking your character. And that hurts… really hurts, and it’s meant to push you away.
2. Being Disrespectful with Contempt
With the second horseman, contempt, the idea is that one partner looks down on the other with complete disrespect.
You can see this a lot when it comes to body language. For example, let’s say that you make a mistake. Instead of your partner being compassionate and understanding, they give a long sigh and roll their eyes. In other words, they are saying through their body language that you are not competent.
It’s these subtle moments that, over time, can really erode the foundation of any relationship.
3. Shifting Blame with Defensiveness
Another sure sign that you are heading towards divorce is the third horseman, defensiveness.
Basically, you are defensive because you don’t want to take responsibility—or, in your mind, blame—for your actions. So what happens? You try to explain away the situation and the shift the blame to someone else. For example, let’s say your partner is upset with you because you didn’t pick up the groceries. And, then, you reply, “Well, it’s your fault for not telling me!”
When one of both partners are not willing to accept responsibility for their actions but rather continue being defensive, it’s hard to see any relationship lasting.
4. Stonewalling Your Partner
The fourth horseman is stonewalling, or blocking communication.
In these instances, the person who stonewalls simply shuts down. For example, during an argument, one partner will try to get the other to speak or say anything, but they don’t respond at all.
It can feel as if you’re hitting a brick wall when your partner stonewalls. This is very frustrating as it means important issues in your relationship are never discussed. You are left feeling angry and resentful, and, most especially, unheard.
The Effect of the Four Horsemen
It’s important to note that everyone gets defensive or may be critical with their partner once in a while. After all, we’re all humans and can’t be perfect 100% of the time in our relationships.
However, if these issues are present over a long period of time—years even—they will permanently damage the relationship. Why?
For one, both of you are pushed further away from one another, not drawn closer. Plus, disagreements never get truly resolved. Finally, it’s very hard to be in a relationship with someone with whom you don’t feel emotionally safe. In fact, it’s impossible!
What can you do?
The only way to stop the effects of the four horsemen is participating in couples counseling. That’s because these kind of behavior patterns are serious issues which require a complete overhaul of the relationship.
A therapist can help guide you through this process. They can help educate you about what the four horsemen are and how these patterns form and manifest. In time, you can both find better ways to communicate.
If you believe that the four horsemen may be damaging your relationship, don’t wait another moment. Seek out a professional couples counselor to get the help that you need. I would be happy to help you change your communication patterns and avert a possible divorce.