Dr. John Gottman and his wife, Dr. Julie Gottman, have formed the Gottman Institute. They are famous for predicting the probability that a marriage will last or not with a 90 % success rate by spending an hour with the couple whose marriage is floundering.
How do they do this? The Gottman Institute uses a metaphor from the last chapter in Revelations in the Bible, which predicts the end of the world. They point out the four horsemen of the Apocalypse, which are conquest, war, hunger and death. The Gottman Institute has renamed this metaphor in the context of communication: Criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling. The Gottman Institute says, according to their research, these four activities can end a relationship.
The Gottman Institute continues to convince us that the way to ensure more harmony in our marriages is to have a 5:1 ratio–five affirming communications for every negative communication. This is called the Losada Ratio developed by a Chilean psychologist, Marcail Losada, in 2005. Interestingly, Dr. Losada found if the ratio went above 11 positive to one negative it would derail flourishing because we are being too sweet and kind–we lose credibility. When we understand the power of this ratio we can see how harmful critical, belittling comments can be. When we become aware of how destructive criticism can be, we can start reining in our tongues.
Contempt is showing no respect for the person’s opinions or actions. When we show contempt we are saying we are superior to the other person. I feel it is a form of pride.
Defensiveness means we are trying to defend our position even though it may be wrong or hurting the other person. We aren’t listening, or trying to see the other person’s point of view.
Stonewalling is an interesting word. If we examine the word it could mean putting emotional stones between us and the other person and then building an impenetrable wall out of them. It’s a double metaphor for punishing our partners. Stonewallers won’t risk being vulnerable and having any communication at all. I heard a therapist speak once and a woman came to him and told him her husband hadn’t spoken to her in three months. Three months! That’s a champion stonewaller who wants his marriage to end. Without positive interactions coming from both parties our marriages will wither and die.
As we internalize these definitions we can spot our weakness and encourage our partners as Craig did for me. His patience was tested as he worked and worked with me, helping me so I could finally see that talking through things would help us become closer. It was a skill I had yet to learn. He was willing to teach me to break up those emotional stones that were coming between us and I could finally-finally!-see the safe harbor that talking through things was.