The 4 Horseman are:
1. Criticism (goes to the core of the other person vs. a complaint)
2. Contempt (disrespect, mocking, etc.)
3. Defensiveness (may also turn the tables on you)
4. Stonewalling (withdrawing from your partner)
If you are doing these behaviors, STOP!!
Or at least make sure that for every one time you slip, that you have five positive interactions.
The 4 Horsemen undermine a person, make them feel small, unworthy, unimportant, dismissed, stupid, not good enough, on edge, walking on eggshells, unheard, unseen, brushed off, shut out, etc. Is that how you want your partner to feel?
Being IQ smart doesn’t always help a relationship. You need EQ—emotional intelligence. Being rational in interactions with your beloved is useful to a point. It prevents you from blurting the first thing out of your mouth. Remember, the emotional brain is triggered in 1/200th of a second, so waiting a few seconds or 10 gives time for your cortical or thinking brain to come on line so you don’t say hurtful things. But after that, emotional connection is needed, and it’s an emotional state, not a smart state.
Not understanding your partner, or not giving him/her emotional connection because s/he’s not being rational will most likely backfire (immediately or over time as resentment builds). Your spouse may feel some of the feelings listed above. And no one wants to feel those things.
A lot of adults weren’t taught about feelings as children—how to recognize, name and deal with feelings. That’s okay, you can learn now. Feelings are there to let us know something needs attention. Once it’s attended to, the feelings will move along. They’re like traffic signs (e.g., merge ahead. If you park there, you’ll cause an accident).
Here are some sentences you can use to open up dialogue:
Tell me more . . .
Say more about that . . .
What does that mean to you?
How are you feeling?
What are you feeling in your body?
I’m curious about . . .
What is most important in what you’re telling me?
What do you know in yourself about that?
[Repeat back a word or two You’re feeling (sad, anxious, confused) . . . ?
What does your expression/body posture mean [maybe describe what you see?
Can you go deeper with that . . .
How does that play out between us?
How does that show up in our relationship?
That must be [hard, sad, etc. . . .
I’m trying to get a felt-sense of that, can you describe it more . . .
How was that for you?
Please know it’s likely you’ll feel uncomfortable (or even contrived) doing different behavior and interactions. That’s okay. Fake it till you make it. What you know is what feels “normal” even if it’s not useful anymore or in given situations. So be okay with feeling out of your comfort zone.
A great book for including emotion in conversation is Difficult Conversations by the Harvard Negotiation Team. It’s a business book that I recommend to couples all the time.
You can not only avoid divorce, you can enhance the intimacy in your marriage (meaning emotional closeness, not specifically sex).