Real Talk, Part 4: The Four Deadly Horsemen of Relationships [Communication Series]

Good Afternoon Friends,

I was curled up with my husband the other day reflecting upon our relationship and my previous partners. When it comes to communication, I’ve come a very long way from the woman that I used to be. Certainly I haven’t lost my spunk, but I’d like to think that I’ve calmed down quite a bit as I’ve gotten older. It’s nice to be quiet. Nestled in my husbands arms I felt thoughtful, quiet, and reflective. “Bae…” I mumbled, “you know, I don’t think I was the best partner in my previous relationships”. He gave me his full attention. I like to make time to reflect upon the mistakes that I’ve made, and discover how I can do better. Now that I have two wonderful relationships, it is more important than ever that I master communication and not fall into the pit of the “Four Deadly Horsemen of the Apocalypse”. 

4-horsemen-gottman

I first heard this term coined by communication expert, John Gottman, years ago. At the time I admit that I brushed it off. Dr. Gottman is an American Psychological Researcher who has spent decades studying couples who have ultimately divorced, and delved into common traits of behavior among them. In his publications he has concluded that there are four relationship markers that (if present) create a higher chance of divorce to occur. Like I said, at the time that I learned this information I brushed it off. “Pish posh!” I hissed and shrugged my shoulders.

Then I got divorced. Twice.

Upon reflection of my previous marriages I realize that Dr. Gottman maybe wasn’t so far off base. These four markers were certainly present in my previous relationships and so today I’d like to go there and open up with all of you about the four most toxic things you can do in your relationship…. in hopes that you don’t do them! (Or if you are, you can take action now and be more mindful! 😉 ). Are you ready? Then, let’s dive in.

I. Deadly horseman #1: Criticism

When you live with your partner it’s easy to become critical. You learn each others habits and those don’t always mesh well. When pet peeves occur, sometimes we have the habit of criticizing our partner thinking that we can change their behavior. I know I was massively guilty of this in my past relationships. I would backseat drive. I would pick apart chores that didn’t get done. I would criticize about our budget being out of whack, and how I always had to mow the yard. On and on my ex and I would tear each other apart. It got to the point where we had to stick to “safe topics” that we felt wouldn’t trigger each other. We never spoke about our true feelings, but instead kept to talking about our day. Over time, we lost that emotional connection with each other. But always there was this feeling of resentment because we didn’t speak kindly towards one another.

My Life Lesson: How I changed this behavior pattern was to re-train myself to speak using “I’m feeling…” statements versus focusing on my partner. Does my husband or Daddy C ever irritate me? Of course they do! But I don’t sit there and say “You did this!” or “You did that!”. Instead I say, “You know, I’m feeling really angry right now because….”. By focusing on how I’m feeling and approaching the problem, instead of criticizing my partner, it keeps our dialogue open and flowing. It isn’t easy, but I’ve learned that it’s much more healthy and do-able.

II. Deadly horseman #2: Defensiveness

At the time I just couldn’t see it. Truthfully I was too angry to understand that I was part of a toxic cycle between my ex and I. We would communicate in a way that was unhealthy. Deep down we didn’t genuinely enjoy each others company anymore. Of course the relationship didn’t start off that way, but over time we just fell off working on our relationship. It’s easy to “give up” working on your relationship, and I had given up. I stuck around because…. well…. we were married! I felt like I had to! Divorce is expensive! And we had children involved too! On and on I made up excuses about why our marriage sucked, instead of taking the time to realize that I was pissed off all the time because our communication had completely broken down. I wasn’t being honest with myself at the time that I was half of the problem. It takes two people to break down a marriage. It’s never any one persons fault. We would criticize each other… and then we would get defensive. Our defensiveness would breed resentment and we would never actually talk to each other! Only when things would really blow up did we have a “come to Jesus” talk but by then we were both emotionally spent.

My Life Lesson: I’ve learned that defensiveness is usually rooted in miscommunication. It’s so easy to miscommunicate and if you don’t have healthy phrases in place to say, “wait a moment– could you clarify that for me?” then it’s easy to fall in a trap of thinking your partner is trying to hurt your feelings. These days when a hiccup arises between either of my partners, I’m very quick to stop the conversation and ask for further clarification. I don’t automatically place judgment on their statement. I don’t allow myself to feel “hurt” so fast when…. most of the time it’s just a misunderstanding! Slowing everything down when you don’t understand your partners meaning in a statement helps significantly. Ask what their meaning is. Give them space to discuss their feelings. If you do, defensiveness won’t come to the forefront. Also use tact when talking to your partner, it helps a bunch!

III. Deadly horseman #3: Contempt 

Contempt stems from a lack of respect. I admit that at the end of both of my marriages, there were hurt feelings, but deeper than that there was utter contempt. We just didn’t give a damn about each other anymore. We were completely, and utterly done. It was a very sad and broken place to be. For months afterward I asked myself, “how did it get to that point? What did I do to create such contempt from him?”. I knew why I lost respect for my partner but I had to reflect on why they had lost respect for me! I had to look inward and see that: okay, I had a temper that needed taming, and yes I needed to stop being so lazy, and alright, I needed to clean up my language a bit. But I actually had to work on myself so that I could be a better partner in my future relationships, and so I did.

My Life lesson: Here in my blog I often say that submission stems from a place of respect. Respect is earned, not freely given. And I still stand by that today. I’m going to use Daddy C for this example because he is my dominant. Daddy C and I have been together for 5 months. In the time that we’ve been together, we have had to earn each others respect. We had to demonstrate with consistency that we could be: trustworthy, patient, loving, understanding, an active listener, mindful, and deeply honest. Notice how those qualities have nothing to do with Little Space. I learned that I could only be Little around Daddy C once I felt that he had earned my respect and I was comfortable enough to express that part of myself with him. I couldn’t just “be little” with him. It doesn’t work that way. Eventually we sealed our bond and I knelt before him in a place that was one of the most moving experiences of my life. I pledged myself to him as my dominant and my partner. I love him unconditionally and I feel blessed to have him in my life. But I never forget that in order to keep our bond alive and well, my actions must always be rooted in respect, love, honesty, and trust.

IV. Deadly horseman #4: Stonewalling

The final horseman is stonewalling… otherwise known as “ignoring the s*** out of each other”. This was absolutely present in my previous marriage. At the very end, my ex and I had become masters at avoiding each other. We spoke to each other when we absolutely needed to, but otherwise he was on his computer (with headphones on) and I was on mine. I would cook dinner and silently place a plate on his desk before going over to my desk to eat in silence. We filled our hours with talking online to our other friends in video games, never gaming together. We were so sick of arguing that we just… gave in. We would do things to “appease” the other person, never really wanting to engage and certainly not emotionally engaging. We focused on our only child together when we had to be out together. But mostly we spent our days apart. Though we slept in the same bed, our schedules were drastically different which made it easier to spend most of our time apart. I got up with the baby early in the morning and cared for her in the house. He would sleep in until he worked from 3-11 pm. I was asleep by the time he got home. Rinse and repeat.

My Life Lesson: Looking back I realized that we had made so many critical mistakes in the foundation of our relationship. We didn’t build our relationship on the foundation of friendship. We actually weren’t friends at all! We didn’t enjoy the same things. We didn’t treat people the same way while out and about. We never had discussions (before marriage) about what our morals and values were. We had failed to really “get to know” each other before we tied the knot and thus…. when we argued, we exploded. Over the years we were together, we grew so exhausted of arguing that avoidance just became a natural behavior. But, when I finally divorced and moved on I learned that there is true happiness in building a relationship on friendship. I’m so thankful that my husband is my very best friend. I’m deeply thankful that Daddy C and I are rooted in friendship before being lovers, D/s, etc. I’m thankful that I’ve reached a point in my life where arguing seems… well, exhausting and time-consuming. I’d much rather discuss the issue and work things out, rather than avoiding my partner altogether!!

I’ve come a long way from the many, many mistakes I’ve made in my past. And because I’ve learned from those mistakes I know that I can push forward to be a better person for my partners in the future. But here in this space I wanted to bear my mistakes in hopes that you don’t fall into these traps too. I hope this post has been helpful. John Gottman wrote extensively on the subject, so if you’re interested in his research you can learn more here.

Alright my friends, that’s it from me for this post. I hope you all enjoyed it. If you did, hit that like button and let me know. Smash that follow button if you’re new around here and I will see you back here for the next topic!

Much love,

~Kitten/Punkin xx

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