Premarital counseling is one of the many services offered by our team at The Counseling Hub! As you may know, we specialize in individual counseling and couples therapy or marriage counseling. Premarital work definitely falls under the couples therapy or marriage counseling umbrella, but it’s slightly unique than other types of couples work that we do, and here’s why.
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?!
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:
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.
- 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 _______.”
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
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.
In marriage therapy terms, we see contempt as a moral superiority over one's partner. Basically, if you're contemptuous, you see yourself as better than your partner and as having the 'moral' high ground…
And it’s on to the next one. Stonewalling, my friends. This is the third horseman of the four. This one is pretty interesting, though, in that there’s some physiology that’s at play.
This is the long and short of what happens.
Partners A and B start having a discussion with heart rates around 70 beats per minute (average). It shifts into a conflict discussion/argument/disagreement. Partner A’s heart rate jumps to 80 beats per minute the second the conversation heats up. Partner B’s heart rate has gone up to about 74.
Think of a time when you felt attacked. Maybe it was by your partner, maybe it was by a stranger, family, your boss or coworker, or a friend - it doesn't really matter who did it. The point is this. Take yourself back to that time and recall what it felt like in that moment.
When we talk about the four horsemen, we're not talking about the apocalypse. We're talking about four styles of communication that, when present within relationships, predict the eventual dissolution of that relationship.
You know the song and dance...
Partner one says, "I'm upset about this thing that happened." Partner two says, "I didn't do anything wrong!" Partner one says, "You did xyz!" Partner two says, "That's only because you did abc!" And then the two careen into a fight that has no real beginning and no real end.
Both partners feel justified. Both partners feel vilified. Both partners leave feeling misunderstood, ignored, and frustrated.
I think this is going to be a really obvious blog for people who are reading, but I've been surprised before, so it's worth it to share.
When I work with couples, I tell them that the work they do is broken down into three large themes (too much detail to get into, seriously), all of which are based around the Gottman's work. We spend time on conflict (duh - that's what most people come in for), existential issues (i.e. life roles, dreams, meaning), and friendship.
Seems really simple, right? "Just be friends with your partner!" is what they tell you, "Laugh together!" is what they say. But when you're in the throes of conflict, or when you can't even look at your partner without feeling resentment or rage or exhausting frustration or defeat, then laughing together seems like the absolute furthest thing from what you're capable of.
And, to be honest, that's not the type of thing I would tell you