No one plans to ever have a divorce. We all go into marriage believing that this is it and he is the ONE. We start out self-righteous and believing our love is all we need to get through it. We are young and this is what people our age do, get married, plan a family. You build a foundation for your life together.
One day he criticizes you for how you do something, and it stings. You turn a little bit inward that day and feel a little bit more closed off to him because he doesn’t feel safe, it feels critical. Something changed. It is like a brick was laid on that foundation, only it is smack dab right between you two.
Then you ask him to take the trash out, and after the fourth time asking you do it yourself. Contempt boils in your blood right now and poof, another brick is laid right between you, it is starting to look like a wall.
You have children together, he goes hunting with friends for the weekend. Now you feel alone while you struggle to just manage the kids while he is off having fun. Another feeling stirs in you and it is loneliness. This feeling surrounds you like the mortar to each and every brick that goes into your wall.
When you try to talk to him, he says you are nagging and overbearing. You defend yourself the best you can, but you feel deflated and alone. When he walks into the room now, your heart sinks and you unconsciously roll your eyes. His presence annoys you.
At this point you avoid interacting with him. It's easier you think, just give him the silent treatment. I’ll stay over here on my side of the wall, he can be over there on his and we will just live together in this house and interact as little as possible.
This is called “stonewalling” and it is the Fourth Horseman of the Apocalypse of marriage. Dr. John Gottman describes four behaviors that will ruin a marriage. These relationship killers are as follows:
1. Criticism- when you are finding faults in your partner and point them out to them
2. Contempt- feeling angry with your partner, holding on to that anger without resolving it
3. Defensiveness- when one person is fiercely protecting their ego, they are not taking responsibility and shifting blame
4. Stonewalling- is giving your partner the silent treatment and not being proactive in the relationship.
When these Four Horseman show up in a relationship, those few bricks between you end up being the Great Wall of China. It is nearly impossible to break it down. These traits are the leading cause of divorce.
When the Four Horsemen are present in a relationship then there is no more vulnerability and intimacy. At this point the marriage is at risk of an affair. I would argue that the Four Horsemen are present before the affair happens. These traits are a warning.
Knowing these traits are one step towards understanding how good relationships work. When the first horseman shows up, criticism, how can you make sure you prevent it from spiraling into letting the other 3 Horseman showing up?
I catch myself here often. Even though I recovered from my first failed marriage where all Four Horsemen were present, it is a constant reminder to me to work on my current marriage. I know I contributed to the problem and I have a responsibility to do my part to prevent it going forward. Knowing this now changes how I show up in my relationship this time.
When I hear myself deliver that criticism, I can feel my husbands energy change. He shifts a little into defensive mode. This is a critical moment, I have to apologize. I have to throw myself on my sword or we will stay at odds with each other and feel contempt. It’s really hard to be that vulnerable sometimes. Sometimes I fail.
Luckily there is some wiggle room. You get it by building deep meaningful connection with your mate. You talk about the Four Horsemen when they come up and you work out your differences. You must be willing to love, to expose yourself to a bigger deeper relationship. It feels a little scary sometimes but it is worth it.
I now have a fulfilling relationship with trust, respect, and a man that has my back at all times. You know what else? I never, ever, ever, have to ask him to take out the trash, he just does it.