Have you felt lonely in your own marriage or relationship?
- Does it feel like the spark has gone?
- Do you feel like your partner is more of a roommate?
- Do you feel like your partner just doesn’t understand you? Or that they keep trying to cram their agenda down your throat?
- Have you been dealing with major changes in your roles due to kids, job change or moving?
- Have you begun to feel like it’s not even worth arguing anymore because nothing gets better?
Perhaps you’ve noticed a pattern of disagreements escalating into full-blown fights. Or maybe you’ve seen a disturbing trend of not attending to each other’s attempts to talk, or even be romantic. When these types of dynamics happen occasionally, there is usually no need for concern unless other unhealthy patterns are present. But when you realize a pattern has emerged, it is time to get help.
The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse – The communication killers
While communication problems are not the only cause of relationship distress, it is often one of the first unhealthy dynamics to be recognized by couples. It represents a large part of how we connect with each other. A therapist trained in the Gottman Method will help you identify communication problems and will teach you the antidotes for the toxicity created by them. According to Dr. John Gottman, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are communication patterns that represent major dysfunction in communication and that if left untreated can result in the demise of a relationship:
- Criticism – This feels like character assassination. A highly charged criticism of the very character of a person that goes well beyond a simple behavioral complaint. These can be passive-aggressive, or overtly aggressive.
- Defensiveness – An angry denial or a charged deflection of responsibility; even making excuses. The defensive person shifts the focus back onto themselves instead of hearing their partner fully. Criticism and Contempt (the next Horseman) often lead to defensiveness.
- Contempt – Often feels like an expression of disgust. You’ll also see things like mocking, toxic sarcasm and belittling. There are facial features that also give this one away (Imagine a teenager rolling their eyes and pulling their upper lip up as if they smelled something horrible).
- Stonewalling – Stonewalling is frequently associated with flooding, a physiological state where a person is so upset that they literally shut down emotionally and communicatively. They will just withdraw from the conversation, not make eye contact, and may specifically look down and to the left. Very often, a person that is stonewalling is in an elevated state of distress similar to the fight-or-flight response.
The Horsemen’s 2 cousins:
While not quite rising to the statistical prevalence of the 4 Horsemen in terms of relationship decline, their 2 cousins are worthy of mention.
- Belligerence – Merriam-Webster defines Belligerence as: “an aggressive […] attitude, atmosphere, or disposition.” Many people would call this the “heated” part of a heated disagreement. Voices are escalated, body posture is puffed up and leaning towards the other person, and eyes are open wide with an expression of anger (or even rage).
- Blame – Rather than owning one’s on part of a conflict, they may place responsibility squarely on the other person. Quite often, blame arises alongside Defensiveness; it is the vehicle that shifts the focus of the problem to the other person, and innocence on the person doing the blaming.
You’re not alone if you recognize the Four Horsemen or their cousins. There is help, and it’s easier than you may think
Conflict in any relationship is perfectly normal, and even healthy when managed effectively. We learn about ourselves and our partners when we move through conflict, and by successfully managing it, we actually build trust in our relationships’ ability to withstand challenges.
I mentioned above that there are simple patterns that when present can reliably predict the downfall of a relationship. The Four Horsemen are those patterns. I’d like to help you before they become a pattern, but if you see that they are already set in place, please get in touch so we can get started. Learning how to recognize the horsemen and remedy their toxic effects on your relationship helps you learn to listen better, feel understood more often, and maintain a calm and respectful demeanor when dealing with charged topics and conflict.
The antidotes to the 4 Horsemen are an important part of our work. I want you to leave couples therapy with a skill set, a complete toolbox that has the skills you need to work through conflict without resorting to the horsemen . . . and when they do show up from time to time, I want you to have the skills to neutralize them. We will discuss how to do this in detail and I will give you materials that will help you remember these skills and integrate them into your daily routines (this helps prevent the horsemen).
Gate Healing, PLLC marriage counseling focuses on effective communication by teaching people to:
Couples Counseling – Improving Communication, Closeness and Conflict Management
The Gottman Method of Couples Therapy is an empirically validated methodology developed by Drs John & Julie Gottman at the University of Washington over the course of 40 years of studying and treating over 3,000 couples. They discovered that certain practices (sometimes surprising ones!) were highly correlated with the long-term success of happy couples. They were also able to accurately predict which couples would not last based on a few simple behavior patterns. With the simple exercises and techniques learned in the Gottman Method of Couples Therapy, thousands of couples have dramatically changed their relationships from nearly certain failure to the closeness and excitement that they had dreamed about.
The Gottman Method
With concepts like the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, which signify major dysfunction in a relationship, and Bids/Turns, which address communication dynamics, their straightforward approach is intuitive and extremely effective. The Gottman Method of Couples Therapy is not just intuitive though, the empirical research supports the methodology and the success rates are astounding. Through the use of assessments, exercises, and homework, the Gottman Method helps couples learn how to communicate better, manage conflict more effectively, and build intimacy that may have been missing for many years.
Couples counseling helps you and your partner:
- Examine your assumptions
- Improve communication
- Learn how to recognize and respond to warning signs that you need to slow down and understand each other better
So what makes a healthy, happy marriage? The surprising GREAT news!
There are a LOT of misconceptions out there about what destroys a marriage, and about what makes them work. For example, many people think that affairs almost always destroy a marriage. In fact, the vast majority of marriages are able to survive betrayals like this if the core issue is addressed in therapy. On the other hand, people mistakenly tend to think that effective marriages are able to solve most of their problems. Dr. Gottman himself was surprised to find that in happy relationships, the reality is that 69% of conflict is managed, not solved! This gives most folks a great deal of relief as it means that conflict is just fine so long as there is discussion and compromise vs gridlock.
Nine practices that lead to healthy relationships (Elements of the Sound Relationship House):
- Knowing one another – Know the small details about each other
- Sharing fondness and admiration of one another – Build each other up, share what you like and love
- Being responsive to attempts to connect – Make efforts to establish and maintain connections every day
- Giving the benefit of the doubt – When dealing with conflict, remember you both want to restore harmony. Practice effective “repair efforts” when conflict does occur
- Managing conflict effectively – Remember, dialogue instead of gridlock. It is the discussion itself that keeps you connected through the conflict
- Working to help one another’s life dreams come true – Give your hopes and dreams a voice! Hear your partner’s dreams and find ways to help them come true
- Creating shared meaning – Approach life from a “We” or “Us” perspective instead of only as 2 individuals sharing a house
- Trust – Trust that you have each other’s backs when the chips are down
- Commitment – Show your commitment by showing compassion, gratitude, kindness, and optimism. Be trustworthy. Follow through on your promises
According to Gottman, each of these elements build a Sound Relationship house that can withstand the storms of a normal relationship.
Couples Counseling FAQ’s
What if my partner doesn’t want to come in?
While it’s not uncommon for one partner to feel that a couples counselor may take sides and gang up on them, a high-quality couples therapist is careful to understand both perspectives and will help both sides feel heard and understood. In the Gottman Method, how this is done provides a great model for both people to follow when helping their partner feel respected and understood.
I am happy to speak with each of you individually over the phone before deciding to come in so that each of you can feel good about your decision to see me. I have even had folks call me with a fake name so that they can ask plenty of questions freely. This is just fine, please feel free to ask all the questions you like. A commitment from both of you will help your work be more effective.
What if things get worse?
While couples counseling may uncover difficult issues that you may not have seen yet, it also provides a very structured and safe environment to explore these dynamics in ways that you may have never experienced before; ways that are far more effective and that actually build trust and admiration for each other. Remember, conflict is NOT correlated with divorce. Not being able to discuss it is correlated with divorce though. By coming in, you are vastly improving the chances that your relationship will thrive.
How long will it take to get better?
Because I use the Gottman Method Assessment, we save a great deal of time getting down to business. Most couples walk out of the 1st or second session feeling a great deal of relief and hope. Because the goal is improving connection and communication, the idea of “getting better” is not so narrow as “fixing things.” Instead, the idea is that your ability to communicate builds resiliency and trust in your ability t0 withstand inevitable challenges.
Couples Counseling Resources
Gottman Institute – Jonathan was trained by the Clinical Director of the Gottman Institute. Learn more about the Gottman Method here
The Mayo Clinic – Information regarding couples counseling from the world renown Mayo Clinic
Psychology Today – Articles about couples counseling on one of the most trusted resource on self help
National Suicide Prevention LifeLine Live Chat – 1-800-273-8255 is the 24/7 hotline
(512) 472-HELP – 24/7 Texas Crisis Line
Learn about how to have a happy relationship: Couples Articles
Jonathan F. Anderson, LPC-s has worked in the helping profession since he started college in 1990. After completing his Bachelor’s degree at the University of Texas, Austin in 1994, he attended the highly-regarded University of Minnesota to earn his Master’s degree in 1997. He is a Licensed Professional Counselor and is recognized as a Board Approved Supervisor by the State of Texas Board of Examiners of Professional Counselors. Jonathan is a Gottman-trained Couples Counselor, and in 1998 received training by the International Critical Incident Stress Foundation in Advanced Critical Incident Stress Management & Debriefing. To learn more about Jonathan’s practice, click here: Jonathan F. Anderson, LPC-s.