“The opposite of love is not hate. It’s indifference.” -Elie Wiesel
Do you and your significant other (SO) seem to constantly fight over the same issue? It may be the trash one day or maybe you were 5 minutes late to a scheduled meeting another day. Deep down, under the surface, you know that there is an underlying problem that is not being addressed. You are having an internal struggle in your head. Part of you thinks that you would be much better off without her, while another part of you can’t picture your life without her. When it comes down to it, you are simply no longer happy. What happened?
Knowing When Your Relationship is Doomed: The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.
If you are like most couples, your oxytocin (the Love Chemical) was flowing through your body when you first met her. She was your personal drug and you felt as if you two could be together forever. She was the one. Then after three or so months….WTF? She is a different person and you guys are having a screaming match over who’s turn it is to do the dishes. Passion naturally fades over time. Cooling off is inevitable and the novelty will not always be there. Your attachment model will come into play and you will start to react to conflict the same way you always do. So how do you know if you can make things work or if you should throw in the towel?
John Gottman is a relationship expert. He conducted a study where he accurately predicted whether couples would stay together or get a divorce with a 91% level of accuracy! Even more amazingly, he did this by watching the couple’s interactions for only a couple of minutes. How did he do this? With microexpressions.
What are Microexpressions?
Gottman would notice that there were two distinct different types of conflict engagement situations that occurred. He said if any of the couple’s displayed any Criticism, Contempt, Defensiveness and/or Stonewalling then the chance of their relationship lasting in the long run was significantly diminished. These four behaviors were termed as the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse in relationships.
This is attacking your partner’s personality or character during a fight. It is using an ad hominem like attack to make them wrong based in the intent of them not being good enough. This is often shown through “You” language. Criticism often manifests itself in generalizations like “You always do __”….. “You never do ___” or my favorite, “You never listen to me, you are such an asshole!” Criticism often lacks specific behaviors to correct and therefore the partner being attacked may feel helpless when on the receiving end of it.
“Contempt is the sulfuric acid of love” -John Gottman
Contempt is just straight verbal abuse. Individuals that implement this behavior generally do so with the intention of hurting the other person.
These behaviors include:
- name calling
- rolling of the eyes
Ultimately, it’s any overall disrespect toward your partner. Constant contempt may cause permanent harm to your partner if it goes unchecked.
When someone uses this tactic they often see themselves as being the victim. Their initial response is to think that they are being attacked and therefore feel the need to prove that they are not wrong. Signs of defensive behavior are:
- Complaining: “I not my fault.”
- Cross-Complaint (Projecting): “I talked to her because you talked to your ex last time.”
- Yes-But Statements: Involves agreeing at first, BUT then throwing in your, “But” to absolve your agreement.
- Repeating Yourself: Usually not even listening to what your partner is saying. Just reiterating your point over and over.
Becoming defensive is a viable tactic when you are attacked, but it should be used as an effective communication tool with your partner.
This last behavior is the deadliest of all the Horsemen. This one is termed appropriately because the person displaying this behavior often uses “Stony Silence.” The person uses the silent treatment and will even sometimes remove himself from the argument altogether. This is an avoidant style of communication and it is often the most damaging to relationships. When one person is Stonewalling the other, it seems as if they do not care about the person and what they are saying. Apathy sets in and the individual just does not care about what is being said.
There is Still Hope
Using some of these behaviors is normal from time to time. When these are used during all conflicts then it is often a sign that the relationship should terminate. Gottman has a ratio for what a positive relationship should look like. He says any healthy relationship should have at least 5 positive interactions for every one negative interaction.
Recognize if you use these behaviors and learn to stop them by being empathetic. Empathy can halt all of these behaviors. If you realize that your partner is hurting and you truly love and care about them then you will want to fight to make them happy. Start by validating your partner when they bring up a concern. If you have a complaint then be specific about what you need to see change. Take a second and breath when you get upset.
Relationships take a lot of hard work in order to be successful. If the same issues are constantly coming up and you or your partner are falling into these behaviors then it is time to reconsider if it is best to be together. I know that I have often been selfish and have clung onto girls in the past because I didn’t want to see them with anyone else. I was lacking a sense of high self-esteem. I knew deep down that I was not going to be with them in the long term, but I could not let go. This led to the above mentioned destructive behaviors. I put them and myself through unnecessary pain and anguish. Deep down you know if you should move on or not. Everyone deserves to find happiness in life. It may be the timing in your life and your paths may cross in the future. I think this quote by Khalil Gibran sums it up best:
“If you love somebody, let them go, for if they return, they were always yours. And if they don’t, they never were.”
Check out the Book by John Gottman on “The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work: A Practical Guide from the Country’s Foremost Relationship Expert”
Check out the video below to learn more about and how to recognize the:
“4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse“