The Four Horseman

I decided this week to focus on the Four Horseman scenarios because they hit close to home to me.  Here is brief overview of what the Four Horseman are: (from the reading: The Four Horsemen: Criticism, Contempt, Defensiveness, and Stonewalling by the Gottman Institute) 

1. Criticism – is an attack on your partner at the core of their character. In effect, you are dismantling their whole being when you criticize. 

2. Contempt – When we communicate in this state, we are truly mean – we treat others with disrespect, mock them with sarcasm, ridicule them, call them names, and mimic or use body language such as eye-rolling or scoffing. The target of contempt is made to feel despised and worthless. 

3. Defensiveness – is typically a response to criticism. When we feel unjustly accused, we fish for excuses and play the innocent victim so that our partner will back off. Our excuses only tell our partner that we don’t take their concerns seriously and that we don’t take responsibility for our mistakes. 

4. Stonewalling – occurs when the listener withdraws from the interaction, shuts down, and simply stops responding to their partner. Rather than confronting the issues with their partner, people who stonewall can make evasive maneuvers such as tuning out, turning away, acting busy, or engaging in obsessive or distracting behaviors. 

All four of these are emotional topics for me but I will share a little about how and where I saw the Four Horsemen sneak into my life. 

Criticism – Even if I didn’t say the words out loud I can think of many times that I unfairly judged someone for some irrational standard that I was holding in my head about anything from how they dress, where they are from (like Utah, Idaho, or Arizona), their political party, music they listen to, etc.  I used to think that for me this was a way of protecting what I held to be important. I spent most of my teenage and young adult years defending the things that I believed and cared about – music, art, skateboarding, political ideas, civil rights, equality, etc – After I was tired of trying to explain myself to people that I thought would just never understand what I was thinking about I just became defensive and mean; cutting people down for the simplest things before I even took a chance to know who they were and what they thought about any topic that was on my mind. I was judging and criticizing anyone who I thought wasn’t like me. 

Contempt – I found that whenever I went into a new relationship I felt like I had the best intentions. I tried to love as openly and unselfishly as possible. After some time (sometimes quickly and sometimes after a few months) if the girl I was dating decided that they wanted to be out of the relationship I started to treat them with contempt. I blamed them for the things that I was not getting out of a relationship like – commitment, marriage, having children, and worse of all a sexual relationship.   It took me a long time to truly be honest with myself and see where and how I was treating these women with contempt. I was not respecting their agency and desires to either love me or not love me. Looking back I was so mean and I can see how I tore down some of them ruining their self esteem.  Thankfully one lady I dated stood up to me and told me I was wrong. At first it was a huge insult and shock to me; but thankfully I listened. From that one time I finally stopped and looked at how I was treating these women. I am still working through this issue. A few talks by Elder Neal A Maxwell, But for a Small Moment, Things as They Really Are, and Swallowed up in the Will of the Father, taught me SO much about my relationship with myself, Heavenly Father, my existence here on earth, and especially my relationships with others.  I am grateful for these words and his prophetic leadership and counsel. 

Defensiveness – There was a song some years back where the answer to a call and response to a chorus that was blaming someone for bad behavior was, “It wasn’t me”  Some people unfortunately live in that space and rarely are aware of how their behaviors affect those around them and with whom they interact with.  Luckily I was blessed with a great sense of self awareness but it still hasn’t always kept me from not wanting to take responsibility for my part of disagreements and arguments. In the definition of defensiveness I was taken with the phrase, “Our excuses only tell our partner that we don’t take their concerns seriously and that we don’t take responsibility for our mistakes.” I think this idea is also very married with the idea of contempt.  I cannot count the times I have dismissed others ideas or concerns, not taking the time to listen, and not caring about what they have to say or how they feel.  Sometimes this was because I thought they were just going to tell me something I already knew, or maybe they were going to correct or criticize me? or maybe even worse, I didn’t think they were intelligent enough (or worth enough) to have an opinion that matters. 

Stonewalling – Over the years with my younger brother I had become the master of stonewalling. I was always busy, always engaged in something “more important”, I was acting busy, being distracted and flat out ignoring him.  This sent a message to him that I may not be able to erase. He wanted me to love him and listen to him so badly he would endure my awful behavior towards him.  

Being honest with who we are is a very hard thing. While most of you (hopefully) are not as bad as me when it comes to these traits it is wise to be aware when we are even starting to flirt with these ideas. Let me tell you a little story about the sister of a girl I was dating for sometime. 

When I first met her I was invited to spend Easter with her and her family. All the extended family was there. As we were getting food ready in the kitchen, her older sister’s husband showed up late with his bean casserole. He was happy and eager to share as this was his pride and joy and his contribution to the big family celebration. When he brought it in his wife (my girlfriend’s sister) started to make fun of him saying things like, “oh, it’s not any surprise you brought the beans, it’s what you always bring.”, “where the beans worth it to be late?” and other cutting remarks all masked in laughing and “messing around”.  Others joined in and kept on belittling the guy for his humble efforts to the dinner. I could see in his body language and facial expressions that he did not find it funny or nice.  He slowly started to shrink from the happy smiling guy he was when he walked in the door. About 8 months went by and the news came out that he had cheated on his wife and he was divorcing her and moving onto another relationship. Everyone in my girl friends family was shocked and couldn’t believe this was happening. They had seven children and had been married close to 15 years. At that time I sat and wondered a few things; one of them was, could you blame the guy? He was constantly the butt of jokes and ridicule and eventually he found somewhere where he could be loved and have his offerings (bean casserole) appreciated by someone. While this doesn’t make infidelity ok, to me it was easy to see that how he was being treated and the lack of appreciation for who he was/is wore him down and he moved on; unfortunately in a very destructive way.  

This example was a huge lesson to me that how the little things we say, maybe even in good fun and in jest, can really wear someone down, break them, and put them past the point of return. 

With the issues I have had with my family relationships over the years it has always been easy to blame others behaviors on why are family did not have good relationships. This last year I came to the frustrating realization that despite all the good work I have done with youth and with families, that I could be all the good things I wanted be with everyone BUT my family; the place where it should matter the most.  While it hurts to be this honest I know there are not many other ways to change completely.  Elder Bednar in a talk at BYU Idaho said that if we ask Heavenly Father to see ourselves as we really are than we should be prepared for what it is we see. It will be an invitation (if we see it that way) to truly draw near to the Savior to use the atonement to become who He wants us to be. It will put us through the refiners fire and help us understand life as both Elder Bednar and Elder Maxwell taught us  to see “things as they really are.” 

One last thought from the talk from Elder Wirthlin in the 2007 General Conference. As Elder Wirthlin was giving his talk, he started to shake, tremble, and lose his balance. Without missing a beat then Elder Nelson, stepped up behind his beloved friend and stood behind him to support him while he shared his loving, Christ-filled words.  As I watched this most tender moment my heart was filled with love and compassion and the Holy Ghost. I was so touched by Elder Nelson’s love toward his brother it brought tears to my eyes. Just thinking about it now does the same. In that moment I felt just one little step closer to understanding God’s love for us and how he wants us to treat his sons and daughters, our brothers and sisters. I am grateful for the example of men (and women) like President Nelson; for his kind, loving, never ending service towards his fellow men.

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