In the New Testament's final book, Revelation, the Four Horsemen represent Pestilence, War, Famine and Death. They ride on white, red, black and pale horses carrying swords and bows, delivering punishment and destruction to all who cross their path.
You might be wondering why I'm telling you this.
The Bible's Horsemen aren't the only ones that wreak havoc on people's lives. There are another Four Horsemen that stalk and ruin relationships.
According to John Gottman, a world-renowned relationship expert, your relationship will end if these Four Horsemen are present.
John's research reveals that by analysing the presence of the Four Horsemen in the first 3-minutes of a conversation, you can predict whether the conversation will succeed or fail.
Yes, it's true!
If you're feeling angry and afraid, worrying that your relationship will end, or if you're struggling to understand why you're constantly arguing and wondering why your partner never seems to listen, then you need to learn about the Four Horsemen.
Knowing about the Four Horsemen of relationships can help you get back on track.
After several years of working as a marital counsellor, I've never met a couple who didn't use at least one of them.
And once you know what to look out for, you can start to change.
Once you recognise the damage the Four Horsemen are doing to your relationship, you can begin to banish them from your life.
Knowledge is power.
Your relationship doesn't have to allow conflict to destroy it. You can resolve your differences.
Learning about the Four Horseman will take you along the path to peace.
1) Starting Harshly
The first Horseman is criticism. Criticism is when you attack your partner's personality or character.
It's different from raising a specific issue with your partner that you're unhappy about.
It often comes at the start of a conversation.
When you criticise, you attack a person's whole way of being – who they are.
Compare these two sentences:
1) "You never wash the dishes, you're so lazy, you never do anything while I'm at work."
2) "When I came home from work today and saw that the dishes weren't washed, I felt angry and disappointed. Could you help out more while I'm at work?"
The first sentence is criticism. It's characterised by name-calling (you're lazy) and generalisations (you never, you always.)
The second sentence is what to do instead. It's specific to the problem; it doesn't attack anyone, and it talks about how you feel without directing any blame. Finally, it also asks for what you want positively.
Some criticism in a relationship doesn't mean you're destined to fail. All of us are critical from time to time. But too much is a clear indicator something's wrong.
Criticism makes the receiver feel hurt, rejected, and assaulted. They shut down, causing the conversation to dry up.
Try to cut criticism from your conversation. When you want to raise an issue, start softly. Be specific. Talk about a single topic.
Name what you saw and heard. Name the feelings you had and ask for what you want.
2) Elevating Yourself
The second Horseman is contempt. Contempt is when you treat your partner with disrespect.
It's being mean toward your partner, calling them names and mocking them with sarcasm.
It's also mimicking them in a way designed to hurt them or rolling your eyes and scoffing at what they say.
Contempt is much worse than criticism.
Contempt is taking a position of moral superiority over your partner. It aims to make them feel despised and worthless.
Here's an example:
"You're 'tired?' Don't be such a baby. I've been at work all day, running around like mad and all you do is stay at home. All-day, every day, you flop on that sofa like a spoilt child with candy. Could you be any more pathetic? I don't have time to deal with another kid."
In this statement, the speaker thinks that they're the better person. Their language humiliates and hurts. The recipient is a "pathetic kid," acting like a "spoilt child with candy".
According to research, the presence of contempt in a relationship almost always leads to a break-up.
If contempt is present in your relationship, you must get rid of it.
To do so, start remembering why you fell in love with your partner. Try to remind yourself of their positives and take your focus off the bad.
The antidote to contempt is to work to solve your differences and build a culture of appreciation.
Try to build a relationship where you're both equal—a relationship where no one person is better than the other.
3) Deflecting Blame
The third Horseman is defensiveness. Defensiveness is when you don't listen to your partner, make excuses, and divert complaints away from yourself.
It's often a response to criticism.
When you feel falsely accused, you hunt for excuses, blame your partner for the same thing, or play the innocent victim.
Here are some examples.
Your partner reminds you that you were supposed to pay the water bill today, and you say:
1) "I had so much to do today, and you know how busy it gets with the kids and the housework."
2) "Well, you didn't pay it last month."
3) "That's not fair; you know I've not been feeling well."
4) "You said you'd tidy the garage, but you didn't, so don't have a go at me."
In each of these examples, your partner's complaint has bounced right off you and back onto them. You've not taken any responsibility for not paying the water bill.
Unfortunately, defensiveness seldom works. Your excuses tell your partner that you don't care about their concerns, and you avoid responsibility for your mistakes.
Instead of being defensive, try understanding your partner's perspective and admitting your mistake. You may disagree with your partner's view, but can you find some small area where you're responsible.
In the water bill example, you could say:
"Ok, I should have asked you this morning to do it. I knew my day would be packed. That's my fault. I'll pay it tomorrow."
Here you're owning up to not doing what you said you would, even though there are genuine reasons why you were unable to do so.
Everyone is defensive occasionally.
It's understandable, especially if you're feeling tired and stressed and unfairly accused.
But since defensiveness usually escalates conflict, try to pause, take some responsibility, no matter how small, and move on.
Doing so is a part of healthy conflict management.
4) Emotional Escape
The fourth Horseman is stonewalling. Stonewalling is when you withdraw from your partner and shut down.
It's usually a response to criticism or contempt. You pull away to avoid conflict and convey disapproval, distance, and separation.
Some examples are:
· Leaving the room and not coming back.
· Flicking through TV channels while ignoring your partner.
· Reading your magazine and pretending you can't hear what the other person is saying.
· Pretending you're engrossed with your mobile phone.
In all these examples, you withdraw and stop responding to your partner.
Stonewalling occurs when you feel misunderstood and unfairly blamed, causing your blood pressure to rise and a wave of emotion to flood over you.
Rather than confronting the issue with your partner, you tune out, turn away, act busy, or engage your attention in something else.
The amount of stonewalling in a relationship can increase over time, and, unfortunately, it isn't easy to stop.
If you feel like you're stonewalling during a conflict, ask your partner if you can take a break.
Then take 20 minutes to do something alone that soothes you — take a walk, go for a run, read a book or magazine. Do anything that helps you calm down.
During the break, don't stew on the argument you've just had. Try to put it out of your mind. Stay optimistic about your partner.
Otherwise, as soon as you return to the conversation, you'll pick up exactly where you left off, and the argument will start again.
Banish The Four Horseman
You're arguing a lot and are unsure why your conflicts escalate so much.
You're concerned as these conflicts are damaging your relationship. You're not sure the way forward.
But now you know what you're doing wrong.
Make sure you recognise the Four Horsemen:
If you can identify the Four Horseman in your discussions, you can begin to stop them in their tracks.
You can start to drive away these destructive conflict patterns and replace them with healthier, productive ones.
It won't be easy.
Over time the Horsemen become chronic and hard to change.
Read up more about them. Learn to spot them in your dialogue. Start working on using their antidotes.
Your relationship doesn't have to remain troubled by conflict.
Drop the Horseman, and your relationship will improve.
Drop the Four Horsemen, and you'll notice an improvement in your dialogues.
With the Four Horsemen banished from your house, peace will reign once more.