The Four Horsemen occasionally take their ride through most relationships. When the horsemen are running rampant, couples begin to believe that there is no way they can work out their problems. Couples start to separate themselves emotionally, spiritually, physically, and financially hoping they can resolve their relationship problems somehow outside their marriage. There becomes drastic and detrimental changes in how we see our spouses positive and negative behaviors. I believe this is partly caused by couples believing the lie that society tells us that marriage is based on happiness and not on the foundational commitments that were made on the wedding day. If my spouse is not making me happy then I’m outta here! That statement is a whole other post waiting to happen that I will get to in the future.
When the relationship reaches this point of disconnectedness and isolation, it can involve what Dr. Gottman calls “flooding”. Dr. Gottman refers to flooding as when “you feel overwhelmed and disorganized by the way your partner expresses negativity. Couples can feel flooded by one another by the ways they express complaints. They get hypervigilant about negative things. The body of someone who feels flooded is a confused jumble of signals. It may be hard to breathe. Muscles tense and stay tensed. The heart beats fast and seems to beat harder.”
The thing is that once the heart-rate reaches 95-100 BPM adrenaline goes into action and the ability to listen and understand at a level needed to heal the relationship goes out the window. The term “fight or flight” is often used to characterize the circumstances under which adrenaline is released into the body.
So how do we break the cycle of these four horsemen so they don’t take our marriage down a path we don’t want to go? Dr. Gottman believes that repair attempts are a way to break the cycle of the four horsemen. Repair attempts involve talking about your communication styles and the negativity in the relationship. It requires making “I” statements that include variations of the structure, “I feel _______ when _______.” These blanks can be filled in with anything because they are your feelings and other cannot make us feel a certain way. We are in control of what we feel. The “I” statements takes the relationship out of attack mode and allows the couple to minimize the four horsemen. If I’m not blaming, then my criticisms are less, my spouse isn’t as defensive, contempt doesn’t creep in, and there is no need for the stonewalling. In all relationships, learning to accept rather that expect will help to create fewer disappointments and assist in lessening the negativity.
What Dr. Gottman and his colleagues found is that couples who maintain a ratio of five positive moments (interactions) to each negative moment have relationships that last. Marriages that fall below a one to one ratio (.8) usually fail. If we want to get the horsemen out of our marriage, we need to jump on a positive horse and get riding! I challenge you to take on the 5:1 ratio for one week in your marriage and see what happens. You might just be surprised and what changes you see happen when you get intentional in your marriage.