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How to Address Conflict in Your Marriage: Using the Gottman Method and the Four Horsemen

Updated: Jan 23


Gottman counseling


Conflict is an inevitable part of any marriage. When two people with different backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives come together, disagreements are bound to occur. But what sets healthy marriages apart from unhealthy ones is not the absence of conflict, but rather the way that conflict is managed.

The Gottman Method is a research-based approach to couples therapy that has been shown to be effective in helping couples build strong, healthy relationships. One of the key components of this method is understanding and addressing the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, which are patterns of negative communication that can erode the foundation of a relationship over time. Let's take a closer look at each of the Four Horsemen and how they can be addressed using the Gottman Method:

  1. Criticism Criticism is a form of personal attack that can leave your partner feeling defensive and hurt. It involves attacking their character or personality, rather than addressing a specific behavior. To address criticism, the Gottman Method encourages couples to use "I" statements instead of "you" statements. For example, instead of saying "You always forget to take out the trash," try saying "I feel frustrated when the trash isn't taken out."

  2. Defensiveness Defensiveness is a natural response to criticism, but it can also escalate conflict by shutting down communication. When we feel attacked, we may instinctively put up walls and refuse to take responsibility for our actions. The Gottman Method recommends taking a break when you start to feel defensive, and using active listening techniques to show your partner that you understand their perspective.

  3. Contempt Contempt is a more severe form of criticism that involves disrespect, disgust, and name-calling. It is a strong predictor of relationship failure, and can be especially damaging when it becomes a pattern. To address contempt, the Gottman Method suggests building a culture of appreciation and respect in your relationship. This means intentionally looking for opportunities to show your partner gratitude, affection, and empathy.

  4. Stonewalling Stonewalling is a withdrawal from communication that can occur when a person feels overwhelmed or flooded by conflict. It often involves a physical or emotional shutdown, and can be perceived by the other person as a lack of care or interest. To address stonewalling, the Gottman Method recommends taking a break and engaging in self-soothing activities to reduce physiological arousal. Once both partners have calmed down, they can come back to the conversation with renewed energy and focus.

By learning to recognize and address the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, couples can build more positive communication patterns and strengthen their relationship over time. If you're struggling with conflict in your marriage, I encourage you to seek the help of a professional counselor trained in the Gottman Method. Together, we can work towards finding personalized solutions to address the unique challenges you're facing and provide guidance and support to help you navigate the ups and downs of married life.


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