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  Monthly Newsletter - November 2004

The Apocalypse Horsemen - 4 Behaviors that can Doom your Partnership.


September's issue was about increasing partnership positivity. This month, we look at negative behaviors in a partnership. Why learn about behaviors that can doom your partnership? Because as you become more aware of them, you’ll also be better able to consciously stop them.

The four most toxic behaviors to a partnership are: criticism, defensiveness, contempt, and stonewalling. They are so lethal to a relationship that John Gottman (relationship expert and best-selling author) calls them the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. They usually appear in the order below. As you read about them, mull over the way each horseman gallops (or doesn't gallop) into your partnership.

Horseman 1: Blaming/Criticism.
Criticism consists of attacking your partner instead of his behavior. You will always have some complaints about your partner. But there’s a big difference between a complaint and a criticism. A complaint addresses a specific failed action. A criticism adds some negative words about your partner’s character or personality. A common habit that turns any complaint into criticism is to add at the end of the complaint: “What is wrong with you?” This can be done either explicitly, or it can be done implicitly by the way the complaint is voiced.

Question to mull over:
When are you critical of your partner?

Horseman 2: Defensiveness.
Although it’s understandable that you would defend yourself when criticized, research shows that this approach rarely works. An attacking partner does not back down or apologize. This is because defensiveness is really another way of blaming. It’s in effect saying: “it’s not me, it’s you”, and it escalates the conflict. It is common for the defensive partner to feel like he is above the conflict, when in fact, he is contributing to the conflict just as much.

Question to mull over:
When do you react with defensiveness?

Horseman 3: Contempt.
Contempt includes sarcasm, belittling, cynicism, name-calling, hostile humor, and belligerence. Contempt is the most poisonous of all horsemen because it conveys disgust and condescension. It has been shown to be harmful to the physical health of an individual. Contempt is fueled by long-simmering negative thoughts about a partner. You’re more likely to have such thoughts if your differences are not regularly resolved after they occur.

Question to mull over:
When do you act with contempt in your partnership?

Horseman 4: Stonewalling.
Stonewalling includes cutting off communication, silent treatments, refusals to engage, withdrawal. Often, after one or more of the previous horsemen have been running wild, a partner will want to tune out of the whole thing. He feels so defenseless against the negativity that he does anything he can to avoid it. The problem is that this will feed even more the contempt in the other partner.

Question to mull over:
What areas do you avoid talking about?


What is next?

If you could identify with any of the horsemen, you now have more awareness of how you contribute to their presence in your partnership. Tell your partner what you discovered, but you don’t need to change him or her. Focus instead on how you want to be. That will make a big difference in itself. Ask yourself how you can communicate everything that needs to be communicated without resorting to the horsemen.

This is not easy. You will not always succeed in holding back the horsemen, especially in heated situations. In those cases, repair the damage by apologizing to your partner or doing anything else that works for you. And if it's your partner apologizing, remember to accept his apology!

We have scratched the surface of some of the negative dynamics that happen in a partnership. There are many other things that you can do to keep the horsemen at bay and increase the positivity and power of your partnership. As your partnership's common enemies, horsemen even have the potential of uniting instead dividing your partnership. If you want to make a major difference in your team dynamic, please contact me about a complimentary coaching session.

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