Lately, it seems the world has been under a constant state of stress and anxiety and unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like it’s going to change any time soon. As a result, many people feel suffocated and overwhelmed, and in most cases, it’s affecting their relationships at home.
When a person runs purely on exhaustion and fatigue due to increased stress and anxiety, they no longer have the capacity to maintain healthy relationships. As a result, they respond to conflict in their relationships with what Dr. John Gottman coined “The Four Horsemen” – criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling.
Criticism almost always starts with a “you” statement and is different from voicing a complaint or simply critiquing your partner. Attacking your partner’s character or saying something you know will “hit them where it hurts” are both examples of criticism, and result in your partner feeling rejected and hurt, and can lead to the appearance of the other horsemen in your relationship.
Where there is a critical partner, there is a bound to be a defensive partner.
Defensiveness is usually the response to criticism when the receiver feels accused by the critical partner. This never solves the problem, but instead reverses the blame and leaves both partners frustrated.
The next two horsemen, contempt and stonewalling, usually appear after criticism and defensiveness have made their way into your relationship.
Contempt occurs when one partner is blatantly mean to the other. Disrespecting, mocking, name-calling, and using sarcasm are all contemptuous behaviors, and it often leads to the other person feeling hated and worthless, which is the total opposite of how partners should make each other feel. When you show contempt, you are putting yourself in a position of superiority over the other person, and this is usually fueled by deeply rooted negative thoughts.
Contempt is the greatest predictor of divorce – if there is contempt in your relationship, you must deal with it immediately.
A person can only handle so much contempt. Over time, stonewalling may be developed as a defense mechanism.
Stonewalling is a typical response to contempt where the person becomes withdrawn, shuts down, and stops responding to their partner. Stonewallers avoid confrontation, and instead use other behaviors to distract themselves like tuning out, turning away, or acting busy. Once a partner starts stonewalling the other, it can become a hard habit to break.
So, how do you keep the four horsemen from breaking into your relationship?
You can keep the four horsemen at bay by making sure you are properly caring for yourself first. Caring for yourself is vital to maintaining healthy relationships in your life. Simple exercises of self-care include meditation, staying hydrated, therapy, exercising, and sunlight exposure.
If we aren’t caring for ourselves first, we are going to be in a constant state of fight-or-flight and we are going to react instead of respond when there is conflict in our relationships. If you feel overwhelmed by the stress and anxiety in your life and you feel it is causing strain on your relationships, give us a call today to start a conversation with one of our therapists.
To learn more about Pax Renewal Center, or to schedule an appointment with one of our team members, visit paxrenewalcenter.com or call us at 337-993-1960.