THE FOUR HORSEMEN OF THE MARITAL APOCALYPSE
It has become pretty apparent by now that one of the chief causes of our society’s ills is the breakdown of the family. The key to stabilizing families is making marriage work. Almost everyone who marries does so with the intention of making it last a lifetime. The problem is that most people just don’t know how.
The chief reason why couples fall out of love is the way they handle (or don’t handle) conflict. Some conflict is almost inevitable when two individuals get close, particularly when they are eating out of the same trough. But conflict can play hell with love. Man/woman love is anything but unconditional yet many people seem not to realize that. Whether or not you can keep your love alive depends very much on what you do and say when you’re angry. And we all get angry on occasion.
There are two main ways in which people mishandle anger: either it’s too intense or it’s too prolonged. In the first instance the anger blows your love right out of the water. When the harsh words are spoken or the threats are made and received, the tender shoots of love will be damaged, at least. The fear begins. And fear is most antithetical to love. When you hurt your loved one you make them feel hesitant and guarded. They fear being close to you. And when your loved one does not feel close to you, you are going to lose some satisfaction. When you lose satisfaction you’re going to start thinking about ending it. Or they are.
The other way people misuse anger is by prolonging it. Anger is meant to be temporary, a transient emotion that reflects a condition in your environment. When conditions change, and they are always changing, you’re supposed to move on and leave the anger behind. Anger prolonged is known as resentment or a grudge. It’s poisonous to a love relationship. You have to let it go and forgive in order to truly relax and live—and love.
There are four types of interpersonal behavior that, if allowed to continue, will surely corrode a marriage. Even between two people who really love each other, repeated
engagement in these four types of interaction will damage a relationship beyond repair. Marriage researcher John Gottman of the University of Washington calls them the Four Horsemen of the Marital Apocalypse because of their powerfully destructive potential.
1. criticism–an attack against the person rather than a complaint about their behavior
2. contempt–extreme disrespect, often accompanied by derision or disgust
3. defensiveness–responding to a criticism with a counter-attack, avoiding the issue, denial
4. stonewalling–a characteristically male behavior, simply ignoring or failing to respond to a complaint or request
If a couple can manage to avoid the Four Horsemen they will have a much better chance of making marriage stick.