In several of our previous posts we got some interesting insights from The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work by John Gottman, Ph.D. In the next four blogs we’ll look further in to what he refers to as The Four Horsemen – characteristic negative interactions between spouses.
Dr. Gottman acknowledges that all relationships have disagreements that can escalate into harsh and bitter exchanges. In his studies of couples over a twenty-five-year period, he found that there are four distinct negative interactions that are lethal to a relationship. In order, they are: criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling. We’ll look at each of these Four Horseman separately.
But before we dig in, we must understand that we can all be overcomers. We can all choose to take the path of personal growth and reject our negative tendencies. We can choose to forgive even when we have been hurt repeatedly. We can choose to love, even when we have been hated. Jesus said on the cross,
“Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing”. Luke 23:34
We can choose words of life and reject a carnal tendency that speaks words of destruction. By God’s grace we can all find the way to overcome and respond in love.
Now let’s take a look at Horseman number one, criticism.
Dr. Gottman makes a distinction between making a complaint and criticizing. A complaint focuses on a specific action like the trash not being taken out. “Why didn’t you take out the trash?” A complaint looks at the problem and asks for an explanation. More like data gathering without judgement.
On the other hand, criticism looks at the specific action but adds a character assault tothe complaint. “You didn’t take out the trash again like you said you would. What’s the matter with you? You always forget and have some lame excuse”.
Criticism attacks the character. It judges, then blames and demeans. Criticism can be extremely hurtful because it attacks the person. Yes, the trash wasn’t taken out on time and the person may have been wrong, neglectful, lazy, selfish, repeatedly forgetful, and defensive. But when we move from dealing with the problem itself to attacking the person, we put our relationship in danger. We move from being able to work on the problem with an eye to a positive solution to an attack on our spouse which is unloving and hurtful.
If you find that you are in a pattern of criticizing your spouse and not just lodging a complaint, you need to reflect on what you say and how you say it. You need to break the pattern and make a daily conscious choice to withhold critical remarks. Pray for a change of heart.
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.