This past week, I witnessed heartache in more than a few couples who call me friend, builder, or counselor. And, of course, I saw it in myself even though I did my best to look away..
It seems that just about every week in this work of BTL, I find myself quoting John and Julie Gottman, the mad scientists who have “thin sliced” their way to predicting which couples opt out vs stick it out. Their science is freakin’ magic and so simple to understand. Like almost all great truths, easy to understand – Not so easy to execute. Here’s the short summary of their forty years of research, put into BTL language. I’ve taken some artistic license with language. I hope this helps you unite with loved ones, those in close community, those you call fellow American’s even if they’re red and you call yourself blue, and even those half way ’round the globe.
You see, what keeps us together as couples, keeps us together as humans…
The Gottman’s have identified the four horsemen of the apocalypse that are toxic to any relationships. Their research shows that, left unchecked, these toxic chemicals kill us. Here are the four horsemen. Take a few deep breathes and let it in.
1. Criticism. The defining characteristic of toxic criticism is in how we present it. When you start the conversation with the harsh set-up of “you never,” or “you always,” followed by your criticism, it’s horsee number one. Avoid absolutes when going Debbie downer. Avoid negative absolutes. Good.
2. Defensiveness. At BTL we’ve seen this one so much in ourselves and our relationships that we’ve coined a phrase you may have heard. We call this one triple d. You see, masters at defensiveness don’t just defend their innocence or fail to take responsibility, nope they don’t stop there. Masters of defense go further. They defend, deny, and destroy. They defend themselves, deny any need to change, and then go forward and destroy the one who brought up the idea. I know this one well, ’cause I’ve been duly accused. Guilty. God, help me hear and keep my mouth shut. God, help me stop being so damn defensive.
3. Contempt. Think of this one as criticism on steroids. Imagine a timely eye roll, followed by a smirk laced with sarcasm. Contempt communicates that we are disgusted with another. Contempt communicates we’re looking down on you. Yikes. Imagine the way your face looks when you encounter a nasty sulfur smell. No relationship can suffer for long when either side senses contempt. Contempt is the not so silent killer. Here’s the crazy part, you and I may not be aware when sending this crazy emotion but crazed and convinced when we think we’re receiving it. Oh God, do I need supernatural help.
4. Stonewalling. This one is the favorite of most men, including me. We may start out talking about something real and raw, but when it gets too personal or too uncomfortable, we withdraw. Many walk away, literally. Some stay put but they might as well be gone. They’ve withdrawn. Nothing gets in. It’s as if you are now talking with a stone wall. Not good. This past week, one of my clients stonewalled his partner right in front of me. He tried to walk away the moment the first criticism came headed his way. “I need more coffee,” was his excuse to head for the exits. Luckily, I was there to make him do what he could. I made him wait, sit in till his partner was finished, and absorb. It hurt but led to the beginning of some significant healing. God, help us all stay connected when hearing criticism. God, help me hear hard truth with a soft heart. God, help me follow my most frequent advice and absorb more.
There you have the four horsemen. Avoid these. Consider them the plague. Alrighty then, now that we know what to avoid, how ’bout we focus these beautiful brains of ours on what would bring power, healing power, to our peeps. Good. Here’s the BTL four healers. Feel free to overdose on these.
1. When talking about anything tough, remember to give the patient some anesthesia before you open ’em up. Don’t forget to start soft, stay soft, and end soft. Tough conversations are best delivered from tender hearts. Tough and tender, remember.
2. Instead of mastering triple d, become a master of “tell me more.” Develop the habit of hearing the yearning, not the crazed whining. As you hear the yearning for connection from your partner, friend, neighbor, or loved one, let it in – turn toward. Nothing unites us more than the ability to turn toward each other. Turn toward. Let it in. Absorb. Your strong CORE will help you decide what to do once inside. Good.
3. Repair. Become a master repairman/woman. All relationships are built by broken people. None of us is whole. None. Know this and lead the way in repairing those around you. Forgiveness and restoration are only for the strong – the lovestrong. Lovestrong, friend. Lovestrong. I may have just made up a new word and I love it. Lovestrong. Good.
4. Accept influence. Oh God, do I really have to do this! This is the hardest one for me and maybe for you. I love to influence another. I love to be right and make things right. It’s very hard for me to admit I’m wrong and accept another’s idea. Nothing say’s “I love you” more than letting another influence you. Men, this is extremely important for us. According to the Gottman’s research a husbands willingness to accept influence from his bride is a leading indicator of a happy home. Oh my God, do I need help.
Thanks, Miss, Mom, and many more for your grace and patience with me. Thanks, God for your amazing Grace. God, help me get off my high horses and heal. God, help me avoid mastering the four horsees, and, instead, become a master in humility. Oh dear God, help me.
How ’bout you, friend. Slow down and sit with this for awhile. Good…