The Four Horsemen of Apocalypse

A relationship is bound to have conflicts, and conflict can be a normal and healthy part of a relationship if handled properly. The problem arises when we mishandle conflict which can lead to communication issues. John Gottman, an internationally recognized relationship expert and best-selling author, advice to identify The Four Horsemen (communication styles in relationships that according to his research can forecast the end of a relationship). The goal is to replace these negative communication styles with healthy, productive communication patterns.

Let’s take a closer look at each of these and how you can combat them.

Criticism

Criticism refers to verbally attacking your partner’s personality or characters. In doing so, you are suggesting to your partner that there is something wrong with them. When criticizing, you may often use the phrase “You always” or “You never”. For example, “You’re so lazy, you never put your shoes away” or “You always leave the dishes in the sink”. As a result, your partner may feel under attack and respond defensively. It’s perfectly okay to express your feelings to your partner, it is a necessary part of a healthy relationship. What matters is how you do it.

The next time you are frustrated and need to express your feelings to your partner, try making a direct complaint that is not an all-encompassing attack on your partner’s character. For example, instead of saying “Your socks are always on the floor, you never pick them up” you can try “Your socks are on the floor. Please try to put them in the laundry basket.” This addresses the specific behaviour rather than criticizing the person. Another antidote recommended is using “I” statements. This focuses the conversation on your feelings rather than attacking your partner’s character. For example, If you want more help around the house, you can try telling your partner “I feel unappreciated when you don’t help out with the housework” instead of “You never help, you just expect me to clean up after you.” We recommend softening your approach and beginning tactfully. Make sure you are clear and avoid passing judgement while communicating your feelings and concerns.

Contempt

The act of contempt implies putting yourself on a higher level than your partner in an effort to disrespect or psychologically abuse them by attacking their sense of self. This can be achieved by mocking your partner, calling them names, rolling your eyes, and using hostile humour and sarcasm. You may implement contempt by saying “You’re so annoying, are you going to cry now?”. Contempt is the most serious of all the horsemen. The negative method of communication can destroy the affection and admiration between partners.

Couples must work hard to establish a culture of appreciation in their relationship to fight contempt. This can be achieved by highlighting all of the qualities that you love and admire most about your partner. Make a list of these qualities in your phone, journal, or any place you can refer to when you need a reminder.

Defensiveness

When you use a counter complaint to defend yourself from an apparent attack, you are being defensive. It is an attempt to protect yourself, to defend your innocence or victimize yourself to avoid blame. In this situation, you might make excuses, complain, and use “yes’butting”. Defensiveness prevents partners from taking responsibility for their actions and escalates negative communication. If your partner is criticizing you, it is still not a good idea to be defensive because it will only exacerbate the situation.

Instead of reacting in a defensive manner, we recommend couples take the time to hear each other out and take responsibility for their negative behaviour. Also, a sincere apology is never a bad idea.

Stonewalling

Stonewalling takes place when you choose to tune out or withdraw from your partner rather than confront the issues. By remaining silent, giving monosyllabic answers or changing the subject, you can achieve this. A partner who stonewalls may physically walk away from the conversation or stop tracing it, appearing to stop caring and shutting down.

However, this is usually not the case. Usually, the individual is overwhelmed and attempting to calm themselves or the situation. However, your partner is very likely to assume that you don’t care enough about the problem to speak about it, and will find it very upsetting to be ignored. When you feel emotionally overwhelmed and need a break from the conflict discussion, let your partner know you need time to collect your thoughts and calm down so you can return to the discussion when you are both ready. This way, they will know you are not ignoring or rejecting them, but taking care of yourself.

With hard work, comes change!

 Do not feel guilty or ashamed if, while reading this, you realize that you have taken part in these negative communication styles. We have all been there before; you are not alone. The key is to learn from our mistakes and improve as we move forward. With this knowledge of the Four Horsemen and their antidotes, you now have the essential tools to manage conflict in a healthy manner. While it is not easy to break these patterns overnight, it is possible when both partners are motivated and committed to change. When couples put in the work, they get the results!

 We encourage you to consider couples therapy if you experience difficulty making these changes in your relationship. A therapist specializing in relationship conflicts may help with self-awareness and better communication.

Your relationship is more likely to be stable and happy if you are able to keep the Four Horsemen at bay.

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Dealing with Procrastination

Do you ever put off doing something until the last minute and then find yourself in a state of panic because things pile up? Or maybe you start to become critical because you dropped the ball yet again? You’re not the only one who feels this way. You may be one of many people who struggle with Procrastination. You procrastinate when you delay or put off completing a task until the last minute, or past your deadline. It is very common and can affect all aspects of your life, including your work, school, and relationships. All which can result in a poor quality of life.

One common misconception about procrastinators is that they are unable to manage their time effectively. While this can be true, it’s not always the case and in fact, there are often more serious issues at hand. Individuals prone to chronic procrastination may benefit more from emotional regulation and stress management than time management skills training. That’s why before you pull out the self-criticism and self-doubt, it’s important to understand the why behind your procrastination. Doing so will help you understand yourself better, develop a plan to tackle the issue, create healthier habits and or seek professional support if you need to.

Why do we procrastinate?

From time to time, we all procrastinate. In a high-stress society, temporarily distracting oneself from stress and unpleasant tasks could even be a helpful coping mechanism. In other words, people engage in procrastination because it temporarily makes them feel good.

However, there is a downside that makes procrastination troublesome, it limits a person’s productivity and causes them to feel low about themselves. Some people procrastinate so much that they are unable to complete essential daily tasks. All of which can lead to poor life choices and eventually poor mental health outcomes.

Procrastination is not a mental health diagnosis in and of itself, although it can be a symptom of ADHD, depression, or anxiety. It can also add more stress to someone who already struggles with a mental health issue.

Other causes of procrastination included

  • Task is not aligned with our values
  • Feeling emotionally exhausted
  • Perfectionism
  • Fear of not performing well
  • Experiencing decision fatigue (brain becomes fatigued and ability to make decisions becomes worse after making many decisions)
  • The pressure to perform
  • Setting unrealistic expectations
How to overcome procrastination?

 Is there hope? Yes, there are many things one can do to tackle procrastination and here are a few tips that you can start to implement by yourself of with the support of someone:

  • Address what is causing the procrastination

  • Ask someone to help you stay on track with important tasks. Regular check-in on the progress of tasks will help you stay motivated.

  • Start with a small and easy step.

  • Eliminate any distractions

  • Reward yourself after completing small steps within the task

  • Rephrase your internal dialogue

The five takeaways about procrastination are:
  • Laziness is not the cause of procrastination.
  • It is the result of our inability to manage negative feelings about the task.
  • It is not a time-management issue but rather an emotional issue.
  • It can be a result of low self-esteem, self-doubt, or anxiety.
  • Forgive yourself for past procrastination and be gentler with the language and thoughts you use about yourself when it comes to completing the task.

Take home message: If you are one of many people who procrastinate before you criticize yourself and submit to a lifelong journey of blame and shame, try taking a more proactive approach. Use the above-mentioned tips to understand your why’s and create a plan of action, and or speak to someone that can help you. 

At Cedarway Therapy we specialize in providing psychologist oakville based services as well as psychotherapy services in Mississauga and all across the GTA. If you are interested in working with us or need to speak to a professional, feel free to contact us today!

 

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