John Gottman, in his study and observation of marriages, has pointed out four behaviors that he says, if left uncorrected, will destroy marriages. He calls them the “4 horsemen of the apocalypse”. They are criticism, defensiveness, contempt and stonewalling.
Most likely anyone that reads this will recognize some of these “destructive weeds” in their own marriages. We probably all criticize from time to time or react defensively, especially when we feel threatened. Contempt and stonewalling are more desperate (and harmful) measures but even they may creep up from time to time.
So why are criticism, defensiveness, contempt and stonewalling so destructive to relationships? For one thing, they all serve to divide rather than to connect. When we criticize (or receive criticism), for example, we are no longer viewing our loved one as a friend or ally, but, in a sense, as our enemy. Defensiveness has the same effect. We are protecting ourselves and thus becoming more distant and less connected from our loved one. Contempt and stonewalling also presume enmity.
When we view each other as enemies or opponents rather than as friends or allies, we no longer work together and grow together. Instead we go our separate ways. We are alone, weak and vulnerable. Criticism, defensiveness, contempt and stonewalling are not just destructive to marriages, they are destructive to individuals. In future posts to this blog I will address healthier alternatives to these destructive behaviors.