In my previous post entitled Marriage Therapy: The Four Horsemen I introduced you to the work of marriage therapist couple John and Julie Gottman regarding the four communication patterns that are strongly correlated with divorce. These four horsemen are Criticism, Contempt, Defensiveness, and Stonewalling. Thankfully the Gottmans have also identified the antidotes to the four horsemen. These antidotes provide alternative strategies that if implemented can heal wounds and restore connection in the marriage relationship.
Antidote to Criticism = The Gentle Start Up:
Criticism is more than a complaint it is an attack on your partners character or personality. The antidote is the gentle start up. When you are frustrated with your partner’s behavior focus on yourself rather than them. What are you feeling in this moment? Strong emotion can drive the behavior of criticism. Focus on identifying your feeling, expressing it directly by saying “I feel…” and then communicate what you need from your partner. “I feel hurt and I need to connect with you by talking about my day”. Using the “I feel…I need” approach helps your partner to know what is going on inside you and allows for more understanding and intimacy.
Antidote to Contempt = Build a Culture of Appreciation
The second horseman of contempt involves putting your partner down through name-calling or insults. Contempt can be avoided by building a culture of appreciation. This time rather than focusing on self I challenge you to focus on the positive qualities of your partner. What are her/his strengths? How has your partner served you this week? What positive quality attracted you to him/her in the first place? Focus on these qualities and verbalize your appreciation. Appreciation must be honest and specific but there is always something positive to appreciate.
Antidote to Defensiveness = Take responsibility
Defensiveness stems from the first two horsemen and is a basic attempt to protect ones sense of wellbeing. The antidote to defensiveness is taking responsibility. We all make mistakes, and making a mistake does not mean we are “bad” it means we are human. So, seeking to understand how your partner views a situation and admitting where you fell short can disarm criticism and lead to deeper connection.
Antidote to Stonewalling = Physiological Self-soothing
Stonewalling is an exhausted partners attempt at coping with strong emotions and hurt, from which, there seem to be no escape. The antidote to stonewalling is to take a break with the intent of caring for self and managing the difficult feelings. You may like to read a book, take a walk, listen to music or have a snack. No matter what it is do something that allows you to calm your nerves so you can return to your partner more available for openness and communication.
Marriage therapist: The Antidote
These antidotes to the four horsemen of the marriage apocalypse can begin the process of healing from pain and disconnection. This process will take time and a lot of work but it is worth it to obtain reconciliation and growth. If you would like more information about couples counseling you can read more here or call 217-231-1413 to set up an appointment with a marriage therapist.
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