By: Julie Sekachev, M. Ed., LPC Associate
Supervised by Melissa Barton, MA, LPC-S
Have you ever heard of the Gottman Method? What if I told you that there is a way to tell if your marriage will last or not after observing you and your partner having a 15-minute conversation. Sounds unbelievable? Well, consider that there is research that has been conducted to test just that! John Gottman along with Robert Levenson identified four behaviors and observed how often couples showed these to one another in a 15-minute conversation. They predicted which marriages would end 93% of the time. You can read more about the study here:
So what are these behaviors? John Gottman calls these behaviors the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” and they are criticism, contempt, stonewalling, and defensiveness. The Gottman institute also talks about positive behaviors to counteract these negative behaviors called “antidotes” they are also listed below. For more information about the Gottman Therapy visit:
How The Gottman Method Can Help You
Read on and see if there is any relation to the way you and your partner communicate and try some alternative “antidotes” to help!
Criticism is when we state our partner’s complaints but in such a way that it shows them that they are defective or have an irreversible flaw that is somehow tied to their personality. You may criticize your partner if you find yourself saying things like, “you never…or you are the type of person… or name-calling.” If you find yourself tying their behavior to a statement about their character, you may be criticizing. An example of criticism can sound like, “You always talk about yourself. Why are you so selfish!” Criticism can make your partner feel like something is inherently wrong with them, leading to them feeling resentful towards you or starting to defend themselves. Either way, they do not hear you, and neither of your needs is being met.
Instead, something that you can try is what is called a “gentle start-up.” This is when you talk about your feelings about a situation that upset you and ask your partner for a positive need. An example would be: “I felt left out when we had our conversation tonight. Could you please ask me about my day?”
We can act defensive when we perceive that we are under attack. When we feel under attack, it can make you think and act like a victim or counterattack your partner, and both are destructive. Defensiveness is when you find yourself making excuses, blaming your partner, or other circumstances. An example of defensiveness is, “It is not my fault we are late; it is your fault!”
A way to break out of this cycle is to accept even a tiny part of the responsibility for the situation. For example, you can say something like, “well, part of it is my fault. I lost track of time and took too long to get ready. I will plan better next time.” Accepting responsibility allows you to look at the situation from a different perspective. You are acknowledging that no one is perfect. You have flaws just like your partner. Simple acknowledgment can diffuse arguments by reducing continuous nagging or complaining because a partner feels not being heard.
Stonewalling is emotional withdrawal from interaction. Partners can do this when they disengage from the conversation. Typically, they do not give common nonverbals such as eye contact or nodding when listening to the discussion. Other examples of stonewalling can be using “the silent treatment,” suddenly walking away from a conversation without explanation, or yelling to stop the conversation. Stonewalling can be an attempt to end an escalating discussion or a response to feeling overpowered. A partner could also stonewall because they are uncomfortable with vulnerability but do not have another way to express this to their partner.
Stonewalling causes an increase in your partner’s heart rate leaves problems unresolved, creates emotional disconnection, and may even trigger hopelessness.
Try to notice when you are starting to feel “flooded” or overwhelmed in discussion with your partner. If you have a smartwatch, you can tell when your heart rate is over 80 bpm for women and 90BPM for men. During this time, it is essential to tell your partner that you are feeling flooded and ask to take at least a 20-minute break in separate rooms. During this time, practice self-soothing. This can be deep breathing, reading, or taking a walk. Remember to schedule a time to come back to the discussion when you are both calm. Make a “repair attempt” with your partner, see the situation from their perspective, show them that you listen, validate their feelings, and ask for what you need.
You can find out more on how to make repairs and examples here:
Condescension and disrespect are forms of contempt. That can look like statements that come from a position of superiority (disrespect, mockery, name-calling, aggressive/hostile humor, sarcasm, eye-rolling, sneering). Such behavior leads to contempt which is anger fused with distrust. It shows the other person their worthlessness and your disapproval of them. Contempt arises from unsettled anger towards your partner and a chronic negative view of them. You show contempt when you believe your partner to be stupid, morally bankrupt, emotionally aloof, or any other irreversible flaw. According to John Gottman, this is the most significant predictor of divorce and must be eliminated. Even if you think contempt, it may come out through body language, so understanding is crucial.
An example of contempt is “Only thoughtless people are late! Not that you are ever going to change…” or “Really? You ‘forgot’ to let me know you had a conflict with our parenting class? I would never do this to you….”
Try to describe your feelings and needs instead of your partners. There are many tools to help to expand our emotional vocabulary. You can use one here:
Express your longings and needs to your partner without making them feel like the enemy. An example of something you can say instead is “Lateness irritates me, I tie being on time to showing respect, this is why I think it upset me, it makes me feel disrespected, could you please let me know in advance if you are running behind?”
Building a culture of appreciation and respect towards each other will reduce contempt. Ask yourself if you genuinely respect your partner, why or why not? You can process these feelings between one another or with the help of a couple’s therapist. Remember, the most important thing is to avoid criticizing or blaming, speak from your perspective, use “I statements,” and ask for an action step your partner can take to help meet your needs.
Need help figuring out the next steps in your relationship? Don’t know where to start?
Get Started With The Gottman Method in Couples Therapy in Katy, TX
If you are ready to learn more about the Gottman Method and improve your relationship, one of the therapists at The Counseling Center at Cinco Ranch can help! We provide couple’s counseling, as well as, other mental health services. To begin couples counseling in Katy, TX follow these three steps:
- Contact our office to set up an appointment or to learn more about emotionally focused therapy
- Meet with one of our knowledgeable therapists
- Find ways to thrive in your relationship!
Other Therapy Services We Offer
Here at The Counseling Center at Cinco Ranch, we offer counseling services for people of all ages in areas including counseling for kids, counseling for young adults, teen counseling, couples counseling, eating disorder treatment, men’s issues, women’s issues, anxiety treatment, depression therapy, trauma counseling, family therapy, and group counseling. Our therapists strive to post blogs regularly. We provide helpful information on a variety of mental health topics. To learn more about our therapists and counseling services, please reach out to the Counseling Center today!