Thursday, 5 August 2010

“Horsemen of the Apocalypse” – Have No Place in Marriage

John Gottman is one of the preeminent researchers in the field of marital relationships. His “Love Laboratory” has filmed and followed hundreds of couples. He claims to be able to predict with over 90 percent accuracy whether or not a couple will stay together after listening to them discuss a sensitive issue for fifteen minutes. Among other factors John has identified four symptoms that raise a red flag in terms of how a couple relates, he refers to them as the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse”.
Criticism unlike a complaint usually infers there is something wrong with the other person’s character or personality. “Why are you so forgetful?”; “Can’t you do anything right?”; “You don’t care about…” Criticism is often a form of general character assassination. There is nothing wrong with a specific comment about a specific event, i.e. “I am disappointed that you forgot to take out the garbage for the second time this week.” That is a complaint. Criticism doesn’t convey love or respect –the two things Scripture indicates that we need.

Contempt appears in various forms. It may take the shape of biting sarcasm, cynicism, name calling, eye-rolling, sneering, mockery, and hostile humor. Contempt is the worst of the Four Horsemen because it conveys disgust and it rarely leads to reconciliation but rather heightens the conflict.

Defensiveness usually escalates conflict because it is often seen as a way of blaming your partner. “Perhaps if you showed me a little appreciation I would be more willing to…”

Stonewalling can manifest itself as tuning out, disengaging or simply withdrawing. Obviously this will not lead to an amicable resolution. It often occurs later in a marriage than the first three Horsemen and is preceded by a lengthy negative spiral. Men are more often than not the ones who respond this way.

The Book of Ephesians gets to the heart of the matter. In verse 4:29 we are told “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” Verses 5:22-33 provides the framework. How could a husband display the same love that Christ has displayed for us and speak to his wife with contempt or with a critical tongue? How could a wife respect her husband by pointing out his faults and putting him down?

It seems ironic that most of us would not hesitate to read directions, the operating manual or the installation instructions when it comes to adding a program to our computers, seeing why the dashboard indicator light is on, or making a complicated recipe. Yet for some reason, even if we accept that the Bible is without error, we ignore God’s instruction manual and wonder why we are struggling in our marriage.

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