Remedies to the Four Horsemen (Part 2)
In my last blog we explored John Gottman’s first two of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse towards marital failure: criticism and contempt. We’ll dissect the last two—defensiveness and stonewalling—whose presence become increasingly dangerous to the health of the marriage. As Catholics, we are a people of hope. So we’ll explore how to exit the stage with your spouse, leaving the confused horseman on stage for a solo performance.
The “defensive” partner sees him or herself as a victim, always warding off a perceived attack. Some of the signs that defensiveness starts to erode your relationships include: making excuses; cross-complaining, meeting your partner’s complaint or criticism with a complaint of your own; ignoring what your partner said; disagreeing and then cross-complaining; yes-butting; repeating yourself without paying attention to what the other person is saying; and whining the “It’s not fair” chorus.
Again, secular solutions of learning to validate your partner, claiming responsibility, and shifting to appreciation (having 5x as much positive feeling and interaction as negative) fall short in immediately addressing the defensive marriage. Instantly galvanizing a routine of using all of the spiritual tools as your disposal; competent, professional, pro-marriage help; and being fortified by a staunch pro-marriage support systems are essential prerequisites to getting back on track. Gottman cites “contempt” as one of the dangerous signs most affiliated with divorce. However, as Catholics, this doesn’t have to be with our Catholic bouquet of resources to save your marriage when defensiveness rears its ugly head. Once the spiritual momentum activates, assistance to develop the needed improved skills mentioned above penetrate.
The last horseman, stonewalling, is akin to nailing shut the coffin. It is a code blue requiring potent counter strategies. Gottman states that in “stonewalling” the person withdraws from the relationship as a way to avoid conflict. The partner may think they are trying to be “neutral” but stonewalling conveys disapproval, icy distance, separation, disconnection, and/or smugness.
The same strategies apply with defensiveness: make sure you are working on yourself and fully engage your spiritual and emotional support system. The Evil One wants nothing more than to destroy your marriage. With stonewalling, perseverance often brings victory. Learning to continue to reach out to your spouse despite rejections and coldness and practicing being undefended (allowing your partner’s utterances and passive-aggressive behavior be what they really are: just thoughts and puffs of air) and drop the negative ruminating can over time warm the heart of the stonewalling spouse.
Gottman’s research, like the Catholic Church, is not about a list of “don’t do’s”.
Tune in next time to understand the “Marital do’s” we can learn from Gottman.
The Catholic Women’s Guide to Healthy Relationships Tip: Remember that with God everything is possible, so don’t lose steam and courage at the site of a few apocalyptic horsemen. Play all out with your Catholic arsenal; it’s your marriage, too.