The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse – Part One: Criticism

 

The Four Horsemen of the ApocalypseBy Sarah P.

To start off the New Year well, Doug, Linda, and I decided it was time to take a closer look at how to build more successful marriages. As of today, there is no better theory on how to have successful marriages than the theories of Drs. John and Julie Gottman.

Often, in the wake of an affair, a couple has the opportunity to create and new marriage. This new beginning allows people to mindfully build a firm foundation. Consequently, I invested in completing both Gottman Level 1 and Level 2 training for therapists and marriage counselors. It is my hope to bring the Gottman’s most well-known ideas to this blog in order to provide practical tools for subscribers. It is never too late to create the marriage you have always desired. But, this time around, you will have the benefit of a roadmap.

Nobody Likes Criticism

Many intuitively know that too much criticism is bad for relationships. Whether an individual is criticizing a coworker, a family member, or a spouse, criticism does not draw people together. John Gottman has discovered that criticism in a relationship is one of four major predictors of divorce.

These four traits include: criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling. This blog post is the first in a series about what Drs. John and Julie Gottman have named the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

Before we get into this post, I would like everyone to watch a short video featuring Dr. John Gottman. This video will provide short examples of what the Four Horsemen look like in action.

 

 

John Gottman said,

“The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse is a metaphor depicting the end of times in the New Testament. They describe conquest, war, hunger, and death respectively. Dr. Gottman uses this metaphor to describe communication styles that can predict the end of a relationship. The first horseman of the apocalypse is criticism.

Criticizing your partner is different than offering a critique or voicing a complaint! The latter two are about specific issues, whereas the former is an ad hominem attack: it is an attack on your partner at the core. In effect, you are dismantling his or her whole being when you criticize.

  • Complaint: “I was scared when you were running late and didn’t call me. I thought we had agreed that we would do that for each other.”
  • Criticism: “You never think about how your behavior is affecting other people. I don’t believe you are that forgetful, you’re just selfish! You never think of others! You never think of me!” (1)

Since John Gottman found that criticism was one of the four relationship elements that predicted divorce, it can no longer be ignored.

What Is Critcism?

In a nutshell, criticism is about attacking the person, while complaining is about pointing out an issue with a situation. As you can imagine, anytime someone attacks their spouse personally, the relationship is harmed.

Ondina Hatvaty said, “Criticizing your partner is different than offering a critique or voicing a complaint. Critiques and complaints tend to be about specific issues, whereas criticism has to do with attacking your partner’s character and who they are. For example, a complaint might be: “We haven’t gone on vacation together in so long! I’m tired of hearing about our money troubles!” Here we see a specific issue being addressed that is a problem for one partner. A criticism might go something like this: “You never want to spend money on us! It’s your fault we can never go away together because you spend all our money on useless things!” This is an outright attack on the partner’s character. It is guaranteed to put them in defensive mode and sets the tone for war. The main problem with criticism is that it can pave the way for the worst of the horsemen — contempt.” (2)

Contempt is truly one of the most corrosive elements in any relationship. Criticism paves the way for contempt to follow.

After an Affair, Criticism Can Come Easily

After you have discovered your partner’s infidelity, criticism and contempt can easily win the day if you let them. While they can certainly seem justified, they do not contribute to healing.

Thus, it can become very easy to say critical things like:

  • You are such a terrible person for doing this to us.
  • I always knew you were not trustworthy.
  • My mom told me that you would do this because you were born a philanderer.
  • You are such an idiot for thinking you can get away with this.

All of those statements could easily come out in a moment of anger. But honestly, it is better to save those statements for a journal. Alternatively, you can write all of those things in a letter to your spouse that you will then shred. We cannot suppress the anger because it festers. Fortunately, there are ways to get those statements out without adding to an already hurtful dynamic.

On the other hand, you can complain to your spouse and make your feelings heard. You just need to ensure that the complaint sheds negativity on the situation itself and does not tear down the person. You could say such things as:

  • I am really scared about what the affair means for the future of our marriage.
  • It will be difficult to trust again and I hope we can work together on this together.
  • People warned me that sometimes good people can get caught up in affairs and I am very disappointed that we are no different.

I have observed some couples where their marriages seem to be made up of one critical statement after the next. The couples communicated this way long before the affair occurred. As part of the recovery process, both partners need to continually work on ways to communicate a desire or the need for change without turning it into a criticism. After all, how can a loving household be built when criticism is the foundation of the relationship?

Why Is Criticism Harmful?

Living in a relationship where constant criticism is present causes ever-present stress. Stress, in general, weakens the immune system. During times of chronic stress, the body can stop producing immunity-boosting gamma interferon and infection-fighting T-cells. These elements are necessary when fighting off infections. But, suppression of the immune system can worsen if stress is left unchecked. Consider these findings:

“Lab studies that stressed people for a few minutes found a burst of one type of “first responder” activity mixed with other signs of weakening. For stress of any significant duration – from a few days to a few months or years, as happens in real life – all aspects of immunity went downhill. Thus long-term or chronic stress, through too much wear and tear, can ravage the immune system.

The meta-analysis also revealed that people who are older or already sick are more prone to stress-related immune changes.” (3)

Each year, science discovers more and more about the mind-body connection. Immune suppression due to stress is an issue both emotionally and physically. I believe that infidelity can be detrimental to one’s health and wellbeing because it causes stress. Infidelity can no longer be seen as something that merely causes emotional turmoil, it can also have impacts that are demonstrably physical.

I believe that infidelity in marriage causes stress to both partners, but I believe it’s kind of an 80/20 split. The betrayed spouse experiences 80% of the stress and the wayward spouse experiences 20%. Stress can wreak havoc on the betrayed spouse, especially if the wayward spouse becomes avoidant and non-communicative. Often, the betrayed spouse is responsible for the on-going stewardship of the recovery process.

The Role of Negativity

While criticism paves the path for divorce, negativity in itself is not problematic. The Gottmans have an interesting view of the role negativity plays in relationships. Ellie Lisitsa, a blogger for the Gottman institute noted:

“The presence of positive affect during everyday interaction is crucial. However, for a relationship to be healthy, both positivity and negativity are necessary. Dr. Gottman’s balance theory of relationships implies the unusual point of view that negativity is important in healthy partnerships. Negativity plays many pro-social functions, such as allowing couples to identify and work out interaction patterns that don’t work, and alerting partners to the differences in each other’s perspectives. Our research indicates that couples (and couples therapy) should not declare war on negativity! A relationship without conflict would not be able to move forward.” (4)

Thus, conflict is not the enemy of successful long-term relationships. However, there is always a catch. Dr. Gottman has identified how much negativity and how much positivity needs to be present in a relationship for it to function. For every negative interaction, five positive interactions are required. This ratio keeps relationships balanced.

Lisitsa continued:

“The magic ratio is 5:1. In other words, as long as there are five times as many positive interactions between partners as there are negative, the relationship is likely to be stable. It is based on this ratio that Dr. Gottman is able to predict divorce! Very unhappy couples tend to have more negative than positive interactions. The bottom line: even though some level of negativity is necessary for a stable relationship, positivity is what nourishes your love.” (4)

And yet, in the wake of an affair, positivity is going to be the very last thing on anyone’s mind. I believe that each of us must knowingly cultivate a process where we bring more gratitude and positive feelings toward our spouse into the marriage. This is certainly a tall order and it can only develop as a wayward spouse begins to repent and ask for forgiveness.

The key to maintaining positive to negative interactions requires activity on the part of both partners. One of the most important aspects of this work is guarding your relationship against the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Therefore, couples need to be mindful of reducing criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling.

Certainly, when infidelity has entered into a relationship, it is easy for both spouses to fall into critical, contemptuous, defensive and stonewalling behaviors. Specifically, it is easy for the betrayed spouse to be critical and contemptuous and the wayward spouse to be defensive and stonewalling. Nevertheless, there are times when both spouses participate in these behaviors. Engaging in these behaviors after infidelity might create an environment of irreconcilable difference.

Surely, developing the 5:1 ratio is a process that will bear fruit in the later stages of affair recovery. Until then, the most important thing to do is to be mindful of how you communicate.

Antidote to the Critical Mindset

I believe that one of the most powerful antidotes to the critical mindset is determining the origin of the critical mindset, critical words, and critical behaviors. For example, prior to an affair, many couples get mired in criticism. One partner might say: “He never takes the time to really listen to me when I am talking about my stressful day.” Another spouse might say, “She always pretends she is asleep when I need her physical reassurance most.”

If neither of these issues are met head on, spouses begin to see each other through a critical mindset. The proverbial rose-colored glasses that were part of better days have been abruptly removed. On the other hand, I also believe that a critical mindset can occur well before marriage.

I believe that everyone carries wounds from childhood. Often these wounds remain unaddressed with individual who caused the wounds. I have noticed that people work through these wounds in marriage, even if not on a conscious level. When these issues are unaddressed, it does not mean they are gone. Often people project all of their anger or disappointment onto their spouse, believing that the spouse is the cause of their discomfort.

Exploring this concept more can help you sort out what kind of anger and disappointment was yours prior to getting married. It is essential to separate your own wounds from those your spouse caused. It requires looking within and revisiting old pain on a conscious level. This activity is not for the faint at heart and takes a great deal of courage. If suppressed hurts are left unattended, these painful memories can be like a Jack-in-the-box ready to spring forth at any time when the proverbial music stops.

The anger from unaddressed pain is ever-present and if they are not faced, it is easy to believe a spouse is the source of the anger. It is easier to show anger toward a safe target than to confront truly abusive parents who will neither change nor have insight.

I believe that spouses who are constantly critical of the other are often acting out unhappiness deep within. Much of that unhappiness came well before the marriage. Being constantly critical of a spouse is a symptom of repressed anger. I also believe these wounds create an environment where the wounded person can easily commit adultery. Adultery becomes a form of escape.

The biggest issue is that emotional wounds are soul deep and they do not go away on their own. I have said in the past that suppressed trauma always finds a voice and most often that voice is found and acted out in marriage. Having an affair for some is a great distraction and perhaps a form of self-medication.

Yet, amid the chaos lives a paradox. An affair can be an unlikely healer and it has the potential to precipitate healing on all levels. To be clear, affairs are never a good thing—ever. Still it can be the very thing that leads to emotional growth.

Often affairs bring couples into therapy because they only have two directions: up or out. Through the act of recovery, all of the layers of accumulated hurt are going to be exposed.

We must address these soul-deep emotional wounds that unconsciously stay with us throughout a lifetime.

The work I have described above is often the work of a lifetime. Most importantly, tools are required to get us through the day-to-day.

I believe that people can choose their behaviors, even if they seem out of control. Still I have encountered many who will insist that since person A did X, they were forced to take Y action. An example: Eve fell asleep early every Saturday night and so Adam was forced to find intimacy elsewhere.

Or, Adam worked too late for weeks in a row and so Eve was forced to find intimacy elsewhere.

If people exist in a mindset, where they blame others for their actions, then they taking responsibility for their actions will require a paradigm shift. Nevertheless, I can assure you that behavior is a choice.

Making Changes

The first step in changing a critical marriage is to change critical thoughts and behaviors.

Don and Kay’s (failed) marriage mirrors such a situation. Names and identifying details have been changed even though I have permission to tell this story.

Don and Kay met on a blind date during the early 1980’s. Don was a quiet, thoughtful, and successful man who had not dated very much before he met Kay. Kay was a gregarious, vivacious, social butterfly who worked in the entertainment industry.

Don was proud to marry such a beautiful, talented, and kind woman. Kay was relieved to have finally found a ‘nice guy’ who wanted to settle down and have a family.

They got married, they both had great careers, a great home, and they had several children. Nothing could go wrong.

To outside appearances, Don appeared to have had a good childhood. Kay never would have guessed the deep wounds he brought with him due to an alcoholic and narcissistic mother. Don’s family was great at covering what happened inside the house by maintaining a seemingly perfect external façade.

Kay wore her childhood wounds on her sleeve and needed an emotionally involved husband. Don’s main method of getting close only occurred in the bedroom and so Kay focused on having a wonderful intimate life with her husband.

But, Kay was never enough for Don, no matter what she did. As Don got older, he gained more confidence and the attention of the opposite gender. Don lapped up female attention as if it were a drug. Anytime Kay asked Don to stop spending so much time with female friends, he would go into deep depressions and refuse to work.

Don became constantly critical of Kay and he nit-picked everything she did, no matter what she did. Kay asked what she could do to make him happy and allowed him to chase his every whim even though it sometimes harmed their finances.

Kay became a symbol of Don’s narcissistic mother and he took his anger out on Kay. Of course, none of this was conscious on Don’s part. Criticism started to corrode their marriage.

Unbeknownst to Kay, Don had embarked on a series of emotional and physical affairs that spanned many years. By the time Kay found out about it, the kids were grown and Don was already out the door. They saw several counselors, but Don refused to do his part of the work. He also refused to break it off with the OW.

Don truly believed that Kay had been the source of his anger and discontent. He was so mired in the affair fog that nothing got through. The marriage ultimately failed and several years later, Don still has no insight as to his part.

To this day, Don prefers to spend his time floating from one woman to the next trying to find the one that does not cause him to feel so discontent and angry. Don has never realized that his discontent stemmed from childhood and that Kay (or other women since) were never the cause.

Don still operates under the premise that a spouse can make him happy (or not make him happy.) Instead of facing his real wounds, he continues to live under this false premise where he will never find satisfaction.

The long road to demise all started with the mental and subsequent verbal criticism of Kay.

Criticism is corrosive and each of us must be mindful of avoiding this harmful mode of communication. As I said much earlier in the post, it is okay to complain about a situation that is no longer working. Stating concerns can help couples problem solve. Better yet, it is good to bring forward situations that are not working but to do so in ways that are gentle. But these are my opinions.

The Gottmans have a different way to combat the critical mindset. Sanaa Hyder from the Gottman Institute recommends positive thought patterns, responsibility, and hope as a way to get rid of critical thinking. When we have tools to move away from patterns of criticism then our behavior follows. Here is an addended version of what Hyder recommends:

1. Think good thoughts
We are wired to feel how we repeatedly think. Thinking positive thoughts about your partner will make it easier for you to think more positive thoughts, and to speak and behave positively towards them.

2.  Accept responsibility
Take responsibility for assessing your own feelings before presenting them to your partner. Whereas anger and frustration are legitimate emotions, further exploration might reveal that in fact you feel annoyed or sad about a situation. 

3.  Let hope win
Have faith in the relationship and in your commitment. Even though you will have ongoing arguments with you partner, focus on your friendship. I see couples in my office who want to “solve” their issues first before going out for an ice cream or relaxing over dinner. It’s not possible to solve problems with someone you don’t want to collaborate with.

Ultimately, kindness serves your expression of difficult emotions by offering your partner the capacity to really hear you. Even if you are angry, in order to approach your partner effectively you must be kind.” (5)

These are very practical tools to use and are certainly necessary to use both in positive and negative situations. While I believe these tools are not meant to solve deeper issues, they provide practical modes of thought and behavior. These three tools allow couples to become less critical and reactive during interactions.

In Summary

This article is more about the corrosive affect of criticism in relationships and less about criticism in regards to infidelity. We must get rid of being critical in all of our relationships and especially with our marriage partner.

Criticism does not draw people together; criticism is not a positive force; criticism cannot help the recovery process; and finally criticism chips away at martial foundations often leading to divorce. This is precisely why criticism takes its place as one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. In my next post, I will be examining the role of contempt in divorce, so please stay tuned.

How have you dealt with critical words and thoughts during your recovery process?

If you have any thoughts on how criticism affects affair recovery, please share them in the comment section.   

Sources

Lisitsa, Ellie. The Four Horsemen: Criticism, Contempt, Defensiveness, and Stonewalling. From https://www.gottman.com/blog/the-four-horsemen-recognizing-criticism-contempt-defensiveness-and-stonewalling/

Hatvaty, Ondina. The Effects of Criticism on Relationships. From https://psychcentral.com/lib/the-effects-of-criticism-on-relationships/

American Psychological Association. Stress Weakens the Immune System.  From http://www.apa.org/research/action/immune.aspx 

Lisitsa, Ellie. The Positive Perspective: Dr. Gottman’s Magic Ratio. From https://www.gottman.com/blog/the-positive-perspective-dr-gottmans-magic-ratio/

Hyder, Sanaa, M.S. Ed. How To Be Kind When You’re Upset With Your Partner. From https://www.gottman.com/blog/how-to-be-kind-when-youre-upset-with-your-partner/

 

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29 Responses to The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse – Part One: Criticism

  1. TheFirstWife January 24, 2017 at 3:32 pm #

    Based on the first 6 paragraphs I dhoukd be divorced. My H was an expert at criticism and stonewalling and defensiveness.

    Now I don’t let him get away with it and point out when he is doing it.

    Here is an example. My son came home from college for the 1st time after not seeing him for 90 days. I opened the door and I was dressed in sweats and hair up (6 am). I go to hug my son and see my H whip out his phone. I very nicely said please don’t take my photo. He did it anyway. First he tried to make an excuse and I asked again – no photo. But still he took it.

    I was angry he did not honor my request. Not everything has to be a photo. I was so happy to see my son. Just wanted to live in the moment.

    So 2 days later in a calm moment I asked him why he took the photo and did not listen to my request. I got the defensive response and excuses.

    After a very heated discussion he now understands he needs to own up to his error in judgement and take responsibility for a mistake and also not get defensive and try to offer excuses.

    • Sarah P. January 24, 2017 at 7:44 pm #

      Hi TFW,

      I am glad that your husband understood his role in what happened. I am also grateful that you are able to acknowledge and point out his behavior toward you.

      No marriage is perfect and everyone I know (including me) deals with the Four Horsemen in their marriages. I am grateful that the Gottman’s have identified them so that we can ensure they don’t destroy our marriages. For example, my husband used to be the King of Contempt. He learned it in his own family of origin since contempt is the number 1 way his family communicates. After I showed him the Gottman material back in 2008, a huge light bulb went on for him.

      Showing him those divorce predictors several years ago made a huge impression. TFW, do you think your husband would be open to hearing about the four horsemen in order to continue to improve communication? I am glad you are standing up for what you need and expect from your husband.

      • TheFirstWife January 25, 2017 at 7:19 am #

        Sarah. Good question on showing him this topic.

        I never questioned or pointed out his lack of communication until his last affair. Now it has greatly improved.

        I now do not hesitate to point things out at any time – even if I know it will lead to an argument. It is the hard choice I make.

        Before that I would let so much slide to avoid a fight.

        Example. As I mentioned my H has many work commitments that run late into the evening. He would tell me “home by midnight” and show up at 3 am. No call. Walk in the door like it was ok. I didn’t know exactly where he was – just out with clients.

        For years I pleaded, begged, reasoned, discussed, yelled – please call if you are going to be late. Just let me know. On 9/11 when my friends were running for their lives and you didn’t know who was dead or alive – you think it would have made an impact in him.

        Not even close. No change in behavior.

        So I finally gave up b/c he was not going to change. So I stopped asking or trying to make it change.

        Now – I get the calls about ETA all the time. I get the notice of where he is. He checks in of his own doing b/c he realizes NOW how disrespectful he was in the past.

        So the behavior has changed and when I point things out, they are addressed.

        That is good by me.

        • Sarah P. January 25, 2017 at 5:10 pm #

          Hi TFW,

          That is a really great example.

          I am so sorry that 9/11 had to literally hit so close to home for you. I hope that you did not lose any friends and loved ones during that terrible event in U.S. history. It changed all of us, but especially those who lived in or around NYC/NJ.

          I am grateful that your husband changed his behavior and continues to change as you point things out to him. Marriages can survive anything if partners are willing to do their part and make the changes the other partner needs.

          TFW, how is your son? I remember he had the unfortunate circumstance of having a high school girlfriend who was bad news. Has college been good for him? I hope he is doing well.

          • TheFirstWife January 26, 2017 at 4:42 am #

            Hi Sarah.

            Unfortunately 9/11 saw many losses – friends, co-workers etc. it is a sad day in my town that lost a large number of people – people went to work never to return home.

            Also my H was in the first world trade center bombing in the 90s so even more reason to be concerned. I don’t think asking someone to call if you are going to be hours late is a big deal but his attitude back then was “I cannot tell him (or ask him) to do anything”.

            At least now it is different. Finally. After 25 years of marriage he finally sees it.

            Regarding my son – he is very happy in college (though he is far from NY on the other coast practically). His former GF never spoke to him from the day of the high school graduation. When she realized she could not get her own way and come to his grad party (because we said no way) she ditched him.

            Unfortunately her extra curricular drug use and drinking caused her to be nearly arrested for possession at her college and in one semester she failed out. She is already back home.

            Clearly at 18 her life is spinning out of control. I guess she doesn’t think of consequences but she had it all over social media she failed her 1st semester.

            Narcissistic train wreck. Hopefully my son has moved on. I fear she contacts him b/c she knows how to manipulate him. But I think or hope he has moved on.

            Thanks for asking.

            • Sarah P. January 29, 2017 at 11:26 pm #

              Hi TFW,

              I am sorry that you lost so many friends, community members, and co-workers in 9/11. That must have been terribly traumatic for you. I cannot imagine.

              I am glad to hear that your son is doing well in college and happy that she is not anywhere near him. I hope that his ex does not contact him either. I wish your son the best with his studies and may he focus on his future success and not get pulled back into such dysfunction.

              I am surprised her parents have not sent her to rehab. Are you aware if her parents even care or try to help?

              • TheFirstWife January 30, 2017 at 5:00 pm #

                Regarding the ex, I just wonder what her parents are thinking. She is crying out for help and keeps pushing the envelope but her parents have a hands off approach.

                Plus her parents some weed with her when she was younger soooo therein lies the problem.

                Sad to see but glad she has moved on.

  2. Rachel January 25, 2017 at 7:55 pm #

    When my ex would criticize me such as my hair or clothing or how to act at a party, he told me that he was only trying to help me.

    • Sarah P. January 29, 2017 at 11:20 pm #

      Hi Rachel,

      Sheesh. My ex would do that and it really chipped away at my self-esteem. Only after the break-up did I realize he did all of those things during the time he was having the affair. Then it made sense. I remember struggling to please him and also believing I was some kind of horrid person who should have been groveling at his feet since he was willing to be with me. When I remember how I felt, I get really angry because he was doing it in order to assuage his guilt about the affair. It is a terrible to be the recipient of such criticism and negativity.

      I am really glad that you left that marriage behind. I still cannot believe that he thinks you two should be friends. Is he really that dense?

      Sarah

      • Rachel January 30, 2017 at 7:58 pm #

        Sarah P., I felt exactly the same way. I shake my head now when I hear his words in my head. No matter how many times I would say he wasn’t right, he just totally ignored me.
        I wonder often how I did it and how did I survive??

        • Sarah P. February 2, 2017 at 5:15 pm #

          Hi Rachel,

          I am really grateful that you survived everything that he put you through. I believe that we are all more resilient than we believe ourselves to be.

          If you don’t mind, what are some examples of things he would say to bring you down?

  3. Exercisegrace January 25, 2017 at 10:39 pm #

    I think these are very good concepts and we can apply them to all of our relationships. No one likes to be criticized! Reframing how we get our message across is very helpful with our kids too. But I will offer one caution. You can avoid the the four horsemen and still find yourself cast in the role of betrayed spouse. Sometimes, people are flawed, selfish, depressed or any number of things internal to them. Opportunity presents itself and in a season of weakness and/or external stresses, they choose the easy way to deal with things.

    My husband and I were married over twenty years, had good communication, and were seen in our church and among our friends as an example of marriage done right. But he lost his father, our business nearly failed, we moved and had a baby. He began to doubt himself. The syrupy lies of a ho-worker began to sound very appealing. He actually said that even though I supported and believed in him, he felt that I ‘had to” say the things I did because I was his wife. The support of a colleague began to carry more weight. The rest is history.

    So while we can and should work on our communication skills, if someone is making bad choices it may not be enough. “Please call when you’re going to be late, I worry about you”….can, in the mind of a cheater, quickly be turned into. “Why are you trying to control me? I don’t have to tell you every single place I go in a day!”. Once my husband made the choice to cheat, nothing I said or did was right. Example: “you don’t ever make me lunch!” Turned into “you don’t make the right kind of lunch, I want hot meals at lunch”. Turned into “why do you expect me to eat lunch with you every day? Stop controlling my day!”. He looks back and admits he was viciously critical.

    Today, we are years past the affair. We have regained our good communication and work to overcome the lingering scars from the affair. My biggest suggestion is to not just work at stopping the criticism, but work to understand how your spouse HEARS what you say. I am very sensitive to ANY form of complaint. I have a tendency to hear it ALL as criticism. Now, I know that I have to slow down and ask for clarification before I give in to hurt feelings!

    • TryingHard January 28, 2017 at 12:51 pm #

      EG–you are so correct. My husband is not so much critical as he is dismissive which then I sadly become critical. Bad on me. Yesterday was a prime example and I had to completely remove my self. From the premises I was so angry at him. He used to being in total control and if stuff that is of no essence. He has way better things to do. But I was moving a project ahead and he completely disregarded what we had discussed for days and threw it all out the window. Leaving was good but I actually had an appt is why I left. But I was fuming. This is when I remembered my New Years word/resolution, DETACH. I detached emotionally from the whole situation and gave a lot of thought to my next words which I brought up later. But well I did throw a zinger in although under the radar about the OWs input into past projects for which I wasn’t privy or allowed to be part of. Never the less I made my point assertively without anger but probably frustration.

      Thes 4 horseman ideas are a slippery slope. We all experience them. I’ve actually read a lot about them. I don’t think anyone in any kind of relationship can avoid them.

      • Sarah P. January 29, 2017 at 11:48 pm #

        Hi TryingHard,

        How did your husband respond after you talked about the project later? Was he able to acknowledge how disrespectful it was to throw your plan out the window? I hope you guys were able to get this solved.

        I really liked how you were able to detach from the situation and revisit it later.

        So here is a curiosity about the Four Horsemen. Why do you think that they cannot be avoided in relationships?

        • TryingHard January 30, 2017 at 8:17 am #

          Hi Sarah
          He was fine when we discussed it later. He knew I was frustrated. He acknowledged I was moving forward in the right direction. He does that crap with no regard for anyone else and what had been discussed and seemingly agreed upon plan of action. The problem is this project was started over a year ago and still isn’t finished. He brought in a space planner and was going to buy things from her to reconfigure the space at over 30k in expenditures which I feel doesn’t need to be spent at this time. My plan came in at a fraction of the cost. I reminded him how the last time the space was remoldeled that our financiers were nine too pleased and how this plan of mine would sit better with them. That seemed to get thru to him. Plus it was more expedient and later down the road we could implement the designers plan. My husband has a good eye for design in some areas but not as good as mine. This is what I’m good at and my plan was good, workable and efficient.

          Anyway I knew in that angry state of mind I shouldn’t approach the subject especially in front of the other employees. It would have looked like I was undermining him not to the employees but to him. So I was glad I had to leave.

          Criticism is in the eye of the beholder. It depends on what your history is together. There are those who take constructive criticism very well. Others can’t take any kind of criticism at all. I don’t care how it’s delivered. What’s that saying “the listener is really the speaker”. Even if the issue is approached and wrapped up in a different package if a person is sensitive will suss the criticism out for what it is.

          One thing about criticizes is they want to criticize everything. There in lies the challenge. To chose your battles wisely. It good to weigh one words and emotions when it’s necessary to broach an issue. But if someone is on the defensive to begin with it won’t make a difference with regards to the delivery.

          Using incendiary words like always and never are just easy words to use when one is angry or frustrated. When we want to make a point we lose sight of the listeners emotions. We want to cut to the chase. And yes not always an effective way to communicate. I could have and probably would have done that in the case above. It takes a lot of control and self awareness to step back. But all too often we will set and seethe until we blow and say non-productive statements.

          Relationship issues are so convoluted. Now I know why so many people chose to remain single!! It is very counter intuitive to me not to address a problem as it occurs but I know to have harmony in any of my relationships it’s better to step back and weigh if this is an issue I really feel is important enough to go thru the motions of sensitively approaching it.

          Si this is where my new action word comes in–DETACH Detach emotionally. How important is it to me to actually address? It’s working for me and I never even knew about this concept before. Telling yourself “i don’t care” is very empowering. LOL, I’ll let you know how I progress throughout the year with me new resolution

          • Sarah P. January 31, 2017 at 10:43 pm #

            Hi Trying,
            I really like your ideas of detaching, picking your battles, and giving constructive criticism. Thanks again for giving some great advice.

            By the way, I don’t think all criticism is bad. Constructive criticism is necessary. I think the type of criticism that predicts divorce is more along the lines of criticizing constantly, using shoulds and nevers, and criticizing in a way that shames someone or is intended to wound someone.

            Here is what I understand from the Gottmans: they encourage people to dialogue about problems and have noted that most marriages contain a high percentage of problems that will not be solvable. They have found that actually solving the problem is NOT an issue– it is how couple’s dialogue about the problem. In fact, they have identified three styles of arguing:

            -Those who go quiet
            -Those who bicker and yell
            -Those who behave diplomatically

            In the past, they had assumed that if people were the bickering type or the silent type, that could lead to divorce. What they found is that as long as a couple has the same argument style, it will not predict divorce. When I first read that I thought of my grandparents. They are in their 90’s and they have spent their entire marriage bickering and arguing. Grandpa insults grandma, grandma insults back, and it escalates to yelling. People thought they would divorce years ago, but divorce was never even discussed. They have been married since they were around 20 years old. Even though they are dysfunctional, it works for them. Arguing and having issues are not necessarily the things that lead to divorce. Fortunately, my parents were not bickerers or yellers. They were and are pretty functional.

            The big problems come when people have two different argument styles.

            Thus the Four Horsemen need to be balanced against that.

            If a couple allows any of the four to invade their lives constantly, it is a predictor of divorce. But it does not mean a couple will divorce. It just means that they have a higher chance if the four horsemen are constantly present. But if both people are committed to staying married, they will, despite the four horsemen being constantly present or not.

            I think the four horsemen need to be seen in context of making a marriage better. If people want to work on the pitfalls of marriage, we know that the four horsemen are pitfalls and can predict divorce. Thus if someone wants to make their marriage better, these are good things to work on. But even if they do not work on them, they do not seal the fate of a marriage– they just increase a likelihood.

            Clear as mud.

            I have a lot of questions around how these four horsemen work in the context of infidelity. I will be taking live infidelity trauma training in the early summer with the Gottmans and hope to know more then.

            So what is the update on the project and your husband? Hope all is well!

          • Shifting Impressions January 31, 2017 at 11:50 pm #

            Trying Hard
            It’s a really good word….I’m being tested in a big way in that area at the moment. Not with my husband but another situation…..the word detatch is my daily self talk. It’s hard but the right thing for now.

            • TryingHard February 1, 2017 at 11:15 am #

              Hi SI
              I know, it seems counter intuitive to detach. Not only is it self preservation ie put your oxygen mask on first, but it also keeps your emotions in check.

              I know we react with emotions because we care. Sometimes we “care” too much. I don’t care if it’s with one’s spouse, children, friends, work, or even social/political causes. But once you put distance and detach from the person/issue it allows you to look at the “forest” and not just the “trees”.

              LOL my therapist calls this new detachment that I am practicing as the “evolution of TryingHard (not really my name but you know what I mean). She is encouraging and asking me lots of questions about my feelings when I do this. One major result of my detachment is the freedom I feel. I can breathe. I don’t walk on eggshells. I don’t worry if I’ve offended someone. And I truly take on the attitude that this is not a MP(My Problem) but a YP(Your Problem) so go fix it. I have little emotional investment anymore.

              Of course it’s harder to detach from family because well there is most certainly an emotional investment. But I have found my emotional detachment with my family members have actually brought me closer to them. I know it sounds weird but the longer you try it you will see how it works to YOUR advantage.

              SI you got this, I just know.

              • Shifting Impressions February 1, 2017 at 2:17 pm #

                Trying Hard
                Thanks so much….. You have no idea how badly I needed to hear your words this morning. Thank you, Thank you, Thank you!!!

                The one good thing is my husband and I are totally on the same page and are supporting each other.

                It’s my youngest child….so it doesn’t get much closer to one’s heart and emotions.

                Trying Hard is not your real name??? Who knew!!! Lol!!! I need that laugh as well.

                • TryingHard February 1, 2017 at 3:05 pm #

                  Hi SI–If we do one thing here it is to hold each other up. Glad my words helped.

                  Oh you have NO idea how close to home your problems are to mine. Yep youngest son problems here too. Only my son isn’t a kid, he’s mid 30’s with big people problems. It does help that my husband and I too are on the same page. Matter of fact he’s more hurt than I. I can’t even begin to tell you the sleepless nights and tears I’ve cried over this.

                  Of all the pains this one is right up there with the worst but I am refusing to be sucked in. He has truly created his own problems that I cannot help him solve. Well I do have an answer for him but probably not the one he wants to hear!

                  I have to tell you SI the whole detachment idea has really really helped me with this problem with my son. I had to do this otherwise it would have probably killed me.

                  • Shifting Impressions February 2, 2017 at 1:45 pm #

                    Yes all adults here as well…..
                    And yes I know this is the way to go.

                    Thanks again

    • Sarah P. January 29, 2017 at 11:34 pm #

      Hi Exercise Grace,

      Thanks for your comment and good to see you again! I hope all has been well with you and glad to hear you got past the affair.

      Avoiding the Four Horsemen cannot prevent someone from having an affair. It is good to avoid or at least minimize the use of the Four Horsemen because they undermine marital happiness and stability.

      Unfortunately, the Four Horsemen are often more present in a relationship affair has come out. It is easy to be swallowed whole by these bad habits of communication. During the course of affair recovery, it is best to be aware of them and to work on not allowing them to undermine a marriage. Recovery is enough of a challenge without letting these negative patterns tear down progress in the marriage. This is the crux of why I think they are relevant in terms of affair recovery.

      I am so happy that you two are years past the affair and have been able to work things out.

      Sareah

  4. Hopeful January 27, 2017 at 3:58 pm #

    I will say one of the first and only things my husband read was an article in the Atlantic called masters of love. It was all about dr Gottman and his findings. My husband still refers to it and took it to heart. For him it was short and approachable yet effective. And my husband is in the mental health field so he is very familiar with Gottman.

    What I found hard to pinpoint while it was going on I never was criticized for how I looked, as a mother or anything like that. Now when I look back I was always criticized for anything that would have required effort, help or work by my husband. It was always why are you so tired, picky, sick. So as I look at it now the only way to fix that would have been for him to help. And he was stuck in shame and guilt and being detached. At the time it was confusing since I heard you are an amazing mom, you have such a great career, you are so successful, I love taking vacation with you, you are so in shape, you always look great. But then it was contracted by these other criticisms for things I could not fix alone and really were things as couples and parents we needed to help each other.

    And your statement about constantly critical people have a deep unhappiness has to be my husband. That entire paragraph is like I am reading about him. I still wonder deep down what caused it. He has given me so many different explanations. And maybe he is right one reason did not cause it. And I also think he sees everything differently now.

    Looking forward to the other articles on this topic.

    • Sarah P. January 29, 2017 at 11:15 pm #

      Hi Hopeful,

      As always thanks for your comments and your perspective on this. During the time your H was having (infrequent) affairs, he would have been feeling guilty. A normal reaction would have then been to find things that were wrong with you and to point them out. He could not find anything wrong with your fitness level, your professional status, or your qualities as a mom. So, he had to pick on something else and that happened to be household chores and fatigue. Any kind of criticism would have lessened the guilt and shame because he would have (falsely) reasoned that because there were flaws, he was entitled to an affair. This was probably on a subconscious level. Because if he couldn’t find any fault with you, he would have had to look at himself and ask himself what the heck he was doing. It was probably easier for him to blame someone else, especially for any deep-seated unhappiness irregardless of an affair. It is a shame. He probably is telling the truth when he says his unhappiness (and/or the affair) stemmed from all kinds of things. I truly believe that people who fall into affairs have some kind of deep dissatisfaction with themselves, even if they will never be aware of or even admit that unhappiness. Do you feel that this is true of your husband at all or am I way off base?

      • Hopeful January 30, 2017 at 6:43 pm #

        Yes I do think they all have to have major issues to take part in an affair. It is hard since looking at my husband I would not ever think this was possible. He puts on an amazing exterior. I remember he would cry to me saying I deserved better. This was before his affairs and also at the beginning. It did not happen all the time. He would then say it was due to his drinking and time with friends but whether he admits it or not I see it as related. Honestly I see it all as related. He thinks it is all him. But I see his upbringing as a major part. He did not have anything really bad happen but he had a lot of pressure for sports and also entitlement because if it. And lots of attention from everyone especially girls. My therapist thinks this is a huge factor. Needing to be top dog and here as he hit his 30’s no matter what was going right this part which was his entire identity his whole life from a very young age was disappearing. I also do think drinking and his friendships play a big role. He was in a house where there was never any alcohol ever. Due to being an athlete he never drank until college. I also think he was raised where you can always push the limits or rules for personal gain. He will not admit it or talk about it since he feels like it has nothing to do with his parents but his sibling has never had an significant relationship. To me it screams what is wrong here. These two are highly successful and functioning in all other aspects of their lives so what is it they both have major relationship flaws. He recognizes his sibiling is unable to commit and when I brought it up that he has obviously major issues with commitment as related to the affairs he was like I see no connection. I know he wants to see his parents as perfect. And I know parents try their best but he has major issues with how they deal with our kids. So it is hard to say but I think there are some major issues here.

        And yes I think criticizing me was almost a survival technique for him.

        • Sarah P. January 31, 2017 at 10:49 pm #

          Hi Hopeful,

          It sounds like your husband (in the past) might have had a disconnect with his inner and outer self. He had to maintain an image and project success.

          I do believe that criticizing you was a survival technique. It lessens someone’s guilt if they can make their issue about someone else. This seems to be a knee jerk reaction in most people. Most people are so wrapped up in their own needs that they believe others cause them to act in a certain way. Or they believe they are (erroneously) neglected and they use this feeling to excuse treating a spouse badly. Does that resonate at all with you?

  5. Falling Ash February 1, 2017 at 2:25 am #

    My OH used the fact that I did sometimes criticise him as one of his rationalisation for the affair excuses. What he failed to realise was that my criticism stemmed from his lack of commitment to us as a couple. It became a vicious cycle of him neglecting our relationship followed by me being critical of that, followed by him resenting me being critical. Recipe for disaster…and it was!
    Nowadays I am deliberately far less critical, but at the same time call him out if I feel he is neglecting to value our relationship. Honest communication about the real issues is paramount if resentments are not to build.

    • TheFirstWife February 1, 2017 at 6:10 pm #

      Falling Ash. I think the Cheater will find any reason or excuse to blame others for the bad choices and have an affair.

      It absolves the Cheater from taking any responsibility for the affair. Just like a child. Not the cheater’s fault they had an affair but blame others or take no responsibility for the choices made.

      My H tried that too – all my fault for his mid life crisis and affair. Except I stood up to him and didn’t let him play the blame game.

    • TheFirstWife February 2, 2017 at 6:18 pm #

      I believe my H’s affair started b/c I asked him not to do something. So he would sneak behind my back and do it Anyway.

      Few weeks later meets OW – hired her to work for him a& BOOM! Affair begins.

      He denied it but I just don’t buy it. He had an attitude of I can’t tell him what to do like I was his mother for crying out loud. So that resulted in the first 4 yr EA despite my confronting him AND then I asked him to stop a behavior and he was angry and affair 2.

      Why people who are adults act like that I will never know.

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