The 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse: What Will Destroy Your Relationship (According to the Research)
For over 20 years, a marital therapist and researcher, John Gottman of the Gottman Institute, developed scales, models, and formulas as a means of determining whether or not a couple will last. He has conducted his research by using case studies of real couples. He has created an evidence-based ability to predict, with a very high certainty, if the couple will last or break up. Basically, he has been able to measure the seemingly immeasurable qualities that exist within relationships.
A few areas that he observes in couples is what he refers to as, “The 4 Horsemen of The Apocalypse.” DUN-DUN-DUUUUUN…. (scary noise). These 4 concepts are likely to tear a relationship apart through time (or make each person miserable). So, listen closely and take notice because, sometimes, we all have to check ourselves before we wreck ourselves.
These are in no particular order—each one is no better or worse than the others.
Being critical is when we focus on flaws or mistakes, as well as express disapproval. It creates judgement and insecurities that are toxic to relationships. It also takes away from the closeness that is necessary.
Of course, we can all be critical at times. This isn’t what Gottman is talking about. It’s about ongoing criticism that becomes a characteristic of the relationship. It can be one-sided or come from both partners, but it is bound to make for an unhappy life together.
Side note: there are some people that are innately critical of themselves and others. I would urge these people to work on this part of him/herself (in therapy), not only because it will make for better relationships, but because it will make for a happier, more loving and fulfilling life.
This is when someone has disrespect, disregard, or just flat-out treats the other as worthless and inferior. It is also when a person believes that his/her partner is deserving of scorn or punishment. Relationships cannot last without both individuals feeling equal, and without a deep respect for one another. It cannot last with unresolved anger and resentment.
Again, this is not so cut-and-dry. Sometimes we feel anger and resentment as relationships ebb and flow. No matter the dynamic though, the relationship must feel like a partnership, with both parties wanting good things for each other (and without yelling and screaming and tearing each other’s eyeballs out).
This is when a person delays or blocks out the other, or refuses to speak up or respond. This can sometimes feel aggressive (more so than merely passive), or, it can be just passive. When one or both partners stop communicating and shut the other out, then the relationship cannot thrive. Both partners can feel so divided, living so separately, that they no longer even feel like a couple.
Side note: It’s healthy for each individual to have lives outside of the marriage/relationship. At the end of the day, though, both parties should want to come together and share in life, love, pain, joy, friendship, lust, etc.
In a relationship context, this is when a person engages in emotionally defensive maneuvering in order to ignore or bury unwanted feelings, or to avoid responsibility. We all do this at times. We deflect when people attack us, and make excuses to avoid what is truly bothering us. And, many of us—myself included—don’t like to admit when we are wrong. Taking some time to sit down and talk about the real, underlying issues and possible resentments allow a couple to cope before it’s too late.
So, there you have it.
Those are the 4 Horseman of The Apocalypse. My guess is that this is something you won’t forget. It might even scare the shit out of you, and become burned in your brain forever. I think that’s a good thing though; it will keep you on your toes. Anxiety can be a great motivator.
So, let’s use these negative, scary concepts to better our relationships. Let’s have more awareness and become more intentional. In that way, if you think about it, instead of bringing us down in an apocalyptic way, these concepts can bolster us up, and become the missing ingredients that save us.