Having been involved in California divorce mediation for several years, we see the importance of healthy communication. I think most individuals who have ever been in a relationship understand the value of communication and how poor communication can seriously harm relationships. What is often misunderstood is what makes communications negative instead of positive. This blog will cover what has come to be known as The Four Horsemen: Criticism, Defensiveness, Contempt, and Stonewalling.
The Four Horsemen Concept
First, the origins. Anyone who is involved in California divorce mediation or works in the therapeutic world is familiar with The Gottman’s. Julie and John Gottman have spent their lives researching to understand how and why some marriages last and others don’t. They coined the term “The Four Horsemen” and describe that these four negative communication patterns can, in and of themselves, predict whether divorce is inevitable. The Seven Principals of Making a Marriage Work, by John M. Gottman, Ph.D. and Nan Silver.
The Negative Impact of Contempt
Of the four, Contempt is seen as the strongest predictor of divorce. Speaking to your partner with contempt reflects an intent to verbally abuse your partner and your feeling of superiority over them.
Here are all Four, some examples, and alternatives.
Think of young siblings and the older feeling consistently annoyed by their younger sibling that she rolls her eyes whenever the younger sibling tries to engage in conversation. Or, the older sibling may mock the younger sibling, or engage in hostile humor. While this behavior may seem “normal” for siblings, it can be extremely hurtful to a spouse or significant other. It may easily make the receiving spouse feel unworthy or “less than.” Continued conversations that follow this pattern will eventually land a couple in our office.
Communication Tips I’ve Learned from California Divorce Mediation
With my condensed version provided of one of Gottman’s lessons, I highly recommend reading each of his Four Horsemen concepts. His explanation of why an argument takes a certain direction is eye-opening. He also provides other, less aggressive ways to have a conversation with a loved one that will still get your message across. California divorce mediation has taught me that it can be difficult to change the poor habits you’ve made during your life. Many of them stem from how you were treated as a child, or how you’ve been treated in a relationship.
It takes time and practice, but if you and your partner can come together with a willingness to be better, to treat each other better, and learn how to make positive Repair Attempts (also coined by John Gottman), positive communication patterns can begin to replace the negative ones. One thought we live by and pass on to our clients is the idea that conflict is not what will destroy your marriage or damage your children throughout the divorce. It is the failure to repair the conflict that creates long-lasting negative effects.
If you are having difficulties communicating with your spouse, partner, or family, West Coast Family Mediation Center can help. Contact us, and our mediators can help with improving communication and dealing with issues.
by: Jennifer Segura