Antidotes to the Four Horsemen

The Four Horsemen | Antidotes

Couples Counseling | Columbia, Mo

Hallelujah, am I right?! You didn’t think that I’d leave you in the lurch, did you?! 

three guys jumping on sidewalk in snow, couples counseling columbia mo

Pfffft! C’mon now, you should know me better than that at this point! 

Four Horsemen Recap

Okay, so we’ve covered criticism, defensiveness, stonewalling, and contempt. Phew! They’re intense (although rest assured that couples counseling can absolutely help, especially Gottman Method Couples Therapy).

The tendency seems to be that they start during conflict. That’s initially, anyway. Then what happens is that they slowly, slowly, slowly start to bleed over into other interactions. You might approach a neutral topic (i.e. groceries) with an edge to your voice because you’re so fed up with not feeling heard on a consistent basis.

You see what I mean?

It’s that whole things-don’t-get-released-or-resolved-so-it-keeps-adding-up phenomenon that I’m pretty sure most of us know all too well. Some of us, anyway. Some folks just put it all out there on a consistent basis (which can lend itself to other types of problems, but not generally this one).

SO, my point is this. The horsemen typically start within conflict and then communication slowly devolves to lots of horsemen during non-conflict. It’s really tiring and frustrating. People tend to feel exhausted and confused about when and why it happens.

The beauty in all of this is that there are antidotes! Yyaayyy!!

Show Me The Antidotes!!

Short version is this:

criticism -> gentle startup
defensiveness -> take responsibility
stonewalling -> self-soothe
contempt -> state your own feelings and needs

Super easy, right? #winkyface

Simple, yes. Easy? Meh, maybe. Remember that whole you know what to do, but do you do it thing? Same concept here. It's simple, but do you do it (first of all), and it's difficult to implement, which is why we're going into details below!

From Criticism to Gentle Startup

With criticism, we want a gentle startup in its place. And with gentle startup, we ask that you state your feeling, the situation, and then a need. And in more detail, it should go like this.

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  • State a feeling (an actual feeling work, not “I feel like you think I’m…”). Nope. Like this instead: “I feel _________” (happy, angry, irritated, frustrated, annoyed, sad, overwhelmed, stressed, hopeless, depressed, excited, guilty – you can pick).
  • Then state a specific situation, such as “when you forgot to load the dishwasher.” In the situation, you can clarify what the situation was, but not point out character flaws.
  • THEN, state a need in a positive way. Positive meaning the addition of something, not the absence of something. For example, “I need to know you’ll load the dishwasher when you say you will,” or “I need to feel supported in the housework.” NOT, “I need you to stop _______.”

Taking Responsibility

With defensiveness, we instead want responsibility.

It’s hard to keep blaming others when we notice and take ownership of what we did to keep the interaction going in a negative direction. For example, “I didn’t load the dishwasher when I said I would. I’m sorry.” BOOM. That’s it. No explanation (yet) as to why, no, “Well, you said you were going to blahblahblah and you didn’t do that,” and nothing else of the like. A simple, “Yep. I did that. I’m sorry.” And that’s it.

Self-Soothe Instead of Stonewall

With stonewalling, we want to engage in self-soothing.

Ideally, we don’t reach stonewalling and we’re able to take a break and calm our systems down. In this case, you’d say, “Look, I’m reaching my limit. I’m about to shut down and I need to take 20. I’ll be back in 20 minutes.” And then you part ways (again, simple, but not necessarily easy) and come back together in 20 minutes.

The important thing is that the time you take to decompress should actually be time to decompress. Meaning that you shouldn’t spend it thinking about how angry you are. Nope. Spend it journaling, going for a walk, riding your bike, cooking, playing with your cat/kid/dog/bird/lizard, or knitting.

Your Feelings and Needs Instead of Contempt

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Lastly, contempt. When you’re feeling contemptuous, we ask that you clearly state your feelings and needs. Such as, “I’m livid and so hurt. I need to be able to trust my partner.” Rather than “You’re such a selfish asshole and I can’t rely on you for anything!”

Okay, this is a long post. All of this, as with most of the stuff we write about, is easier said than done. Really, it all just takes practice, attention, and intention. If you’re looking for some help, make sure you email us right now and we can get you set up with one of our team.

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