there’s not enough money to pay the bills, credit card debts keep piling up, in-laws intrude with all their advise and many visits, and we have to work longer hours to keep our jobs while accomplishing more.
Suddenly we find ourselves arguing more, tempers flaring, anger rising beyond the norm and the blame game begins. We go outside our marriage to talk about our spouses and get consolation, validation, sympathy and support.
And the scene is set for even more serious troubles.
In his book, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, Dr. John Gottman lays out in a practical format the seven principles for making marriage work, based on years of research and study in his Seattle based clinic, The Gottman Institute.
It is a book I highly recommend to anyone who is interested in developing and maintaining a “harmonious and long-lasting relationship” with their spouse. The exercises along with the easily applied information outlined in this book are easy to follow and exceptional.
When we become negative and sarcastic we are venturing on the threshold of a danger zone.
It is not just anger we are experiencing, but a simmering, ongoing dislike and building rage. It is not just arguing or fighting – it is developing contempt for our partner.
Gottman describes 4 areas of negative interaction which precipitates the early demise of a marriage that he refers to as the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: Criticism – Contempt – Defensiveness and Stonewalling.”
Do you recognize the beginning of any of these in your relationship?
1. Criticism: these are words that denigrate the character or personality of your spouse. It goes beyond complaints which target behaviors. It belittles and scorns and vilifies.
2. Contempt: An attitude of disgust, sarcasm and cynicism is built. We now consider our spouse either worthless or inferior and not worthy of respect. Whatever our spouse says or does our response is to mock or sneer at them. This is an extremely toxic brew that we have allowed to ferment and develop.
3. Defensiveness: Because we have allowed negative thoughts about our spouse to simmer and stew without resolution, no matter what our spouse says, it is immediately construed as an attack. We are constantly on the defensive and ready to counter-attack and blame our spouses for anything and everything that happens, putting a negative spin on even the slightest indiscretion, lack of judgment or tact. There is no problem solving or negotiation – just attack and defend.
4. Stonewalling: As this destructive cycle continues, individuals caught in its sequence begin to stonewall, refusing to cooperate, avoid questions and deliberately create delays. Their persona indicates they could care less what the other person says or does. They are no longer interested in discussion, negotiation or resolving disagreement.
“The truth is rarely pure and never simple.” Oscar Wilde
Is there any hope?
While these may be predictive signs of a potential breakup, when two people really want to change and work together, they can do so. Sometimes we think if we just leave and start over again our lives will be different and we will be happy. We forget, however, that we take with us the remnants of previous broken relationships and unless we work through them, we repeat previous behaviors.
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Also in the RELATIONSHIPS series:
Part 1: Relationships: Who Needs Them?
Part 7: Relationships: Unspoken Rules
Part 9: Those Good Times
Part 10: Critical Investments
Part 11: Retreat
Part 12: Conversation