There’s nothing worse than feeling like your relationship is failing. When the days of overwhelming affection and feelings of euphoria are replaced by pointless bickering, silence and tears. But how do you know when enough is enough?
How? Using a theory called “The Four Horsemen”, developed from over 40 years of research into relationships, that outlines the four signs that indicate a marriage apocalypse is on the horizon:
Relationships psychotherapist and director of Clear Day Consulting Dr Jim O’Connor explained how we can identify if they’re present in our own relationships. (Post continues after gallery.)
“The Four Horsemen is a great model. It’s absolutely true that if you or your partner are doing the four things, then they are very serious signs that the relationship is failing,” he says.
“Criticism means to simply critique the other person. We do need to criticise but rarely. The problem is, because it’s purely opinion based, what if you’re wrong?” he explains.
“Contempt is when someone believes that the other person is not worthy of their respect. They believe that it’s okay to be mean and disrespectful,” Dr O’Connor says.
“An example would be making open comments that are hurtful, disregarding the needs and wants of the partner in decision making and believing that they are uninmportant,” he says.
“Defensiveness and stonewalling are similar things – preventing the person from winning and getting what they want. This could be through arguments, dismissal, distraction or by utterly refusing to co-operate,” he says.
“But it’s important to remember that they are symptoms and not causes… and they are symptoms that indicate unhappy people. They indicate that an individual has become so angry, resentful and frustrated that they are openly disrespectful to their partner.”
While Dr O’Connor agrees with Gottman, he also believes that there are many more key indicators to take into consideration.
“Anger, so using intimidation to get what you want, is the single biggest indicator of relationship failure, but more common emotional symptoms would be frustration, resentment or helplessness,” he says.
“Sadness and experiencing the feeling of loss, of expectation,” explains Dr O’Connor.
Behavioural symptoms include manipulation and controlling behaviour.
“The difference is manipulative behaviour involves taking away someone’s power to choose without them knowing by holding back details or lying, while controlling behaviour is taking away their power and they know it,” he explains.
“Men use aggression and disapproval to achieve this, while women often use disapproval and badgering.”
However, whether your relationship is fixable or not doesn’t just depend on how many of these symptoms you identify.
“No marriage is unfixable… whether a relationship can recover relies entirely on whether the two parties are capable of adapting. That’s the biggest problem,” says Dr O’Connor.
“If one person is willing to change, then you can perhaps stabilise the relationship, but it won’t be as good as it can possibly be. If both are, then you can really have any outcome.”
The way to ensure a happy marriage? With two happy individuals.
“If individuals are happy then they can relate happily. A failing marriage makes unhappy people even more unhappy. Effective communication is also important, but secondary to this,” he says.
"A happy marriage requires high level communication skills, conflict resolution skills, the capacity to co-operate, the desire to care and whether your partner adds value to your life."
How you feel as an individual is also influential.
"To become the happiest person you can be, you need to accept that it's not your marriage that will make you happy - the power to be happy lies entirely within yourself. Eighty per cent of work in relationships is working on the individual first," he says.
"It's all about intention. A relationship has to begin with the intention to create happy and fulfilling experiences and as a result a happy and fulfilling life - from both parties. Individual happiness is integral to couple happiness."
"I've had clients walk in holding divorce papers after one has had an affair, and they go on to be happy again. I've also had couples who haven't had any traumatic experiences, they just bickered a lot and they ended up in divorce," says Dr O'Connor.
"Ultimately, you have to ask yourself, 'Do I believe there's enough value in this relationship to save it?' If you do, you will."
What's the most important thing to you in a partner?
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