The Gottman Institute, headed by the highly influential psychotherapists Drs. John and Julie Schwartz-Gottman, provides practical, research-based tools to strengthen romantic relationships. The Gottman Method, as it is commonly referred, is now a valued training method where mental health professionals who provide couples therapy, treat couples in a novel way by identifying key relationship practices that couples can introduce and avoid in their marriages to ensure healthy, long-lasting relationships. Gottman trained therapists aim to help couples build stronger relationships overall and balanced ways to cope with conflict.
The Gottman ideology focuses on four types of communication styles that can disrupt healthy and stable relationships. Being able to identify these four communication patterns is believed to be a necessary first step in working on your relationship. Once the negative communication style is identified it is important to learn how to eliminate it and replace it with respectful and productive communication to guarantee a successful long-term relationship.
Gottman refers to these four negative communication styles as “The Four Horsemen.” The “Four Horsemen” include criticism, contempt, stonewalling, and defensiveness. According to Gottman research, couples who communicate with criticism, contempt, stonewalling and defensiveness regularly, are more likely to separate.
- Criticism can be problematic in relationships when it becomes pervasive because it can be viewed as an attack on a partner’s character. It makes the victim of the criticism feel rejected and hurt and often causes the perpetrator and victim to fall into an escalating pattern where the criticism reappears with greater frequency, which in turn leads to contempt – the second of the “four horsemen.”
- Contempt is generally at issue when a partner treats the other with disrespect, such as mocking, sarcasm and ridicule. This makes the victim of the contempt to feel worthless and undesirable and results in long-standing feelings of negativity between couples. And, according to Gottman theorists, contempt is the single greatest predictor of divorce!
- The third “horseman” is defensiveness which typically results as a response to criticism and a feeling that a partner is being unjustly accused. While defensiveness is commonly used as an emotional response when feeling stressed and attacked, it’s important to remember that defensiveness typically only escalates the conflict. A better suggested approach is to take a non-defensive stance, express acceptance of accountability and understanding of your partner’s perspective.
- The fourth “horseman” is stonewalling and it is believed that this communication style results from a response to contempt. Stonewalling occurs when one partner essentially “shuts down” and simply stops responding to their partner. This type of communication style is particularly hurtful and problematic because it does not confront the presenting issues in a relationship which only amplifies negativity between partners. Gottman therapists believe that it takes time for the negativity created by the first three “horseman” to become overwhelming enough that stonewalling becomes an issue, but once it appears, stonewalling results in bad habits that are destructive to relationships.
Marriages and relationships in general take work but it’s never too late to get started. There are great Gottman trained therapists all over the state that are ready to help you reignite the spark with your special someone.
The Gottman Referral Network is the primary resource for couples worldwide who are seeking professional help from Gottman-trained therapists. You can locate one in your area using that page.