John and Julie Gottman are well known when it comes to relationships. With 30+ years of experience and research behind them, they know something about what makes relationships tick, and what makes them burn to the ground.
If you follow any of the Gottman’s work, you’ll probably have heard of the 4 horsemen. These are the 4 patterns or habits, that when they gain a foothold between 2 people, can take down even the strongest relationships.
They are criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling, and it’s not hard to see why. Each one drives a wedge between couples and can cause enough damage over time, to be a real love breaker.
However, without going into a description of each one here (you can Google that for yourself), I’d like to nominate 4 alternative practices, that when done consistently, can overcome the 4 horsemen, and keep your relationships free from the pitfalls of the fiery 4.
They are the 4 agreements.
These agreements come from Don Miguel Ruiz. They are based on ancient Toltec wisdom and are a powerful code of conduct for deep freedom, happiness, and love.
The 4 Agreements are:
- Be impeccable with your word
- Don’t take anything personally
- Don’t make assumptions
- Always do your best
Combat criticism with speaking kind words
It’s not hard to be kind, is it? Is it easier to be critical or easier to be kind? Better yet, is it better to be critical or better to be kind?
Don’t get this mixed up with being honest or needing to raise a topic that might be touchy. But before you launch into a full-scale attack or tirade about something your partner is doing that really gets under your skin, temper it with a little kindness. Your words will be received and you are much more likely to get a better outcome.
But remember, you’re not being kind to get something you want or change another person. Be kind because it is simply a better way to be.
Combat contempt with doing your best
When you are focused on doing and giving your best in a relationship, and focused on the best in the other person, it’s hard to fall into contempt.
Doing your best means that you are giving your best, and when you do that, it’s unlikely you’re being contemptuous. Contempt is the next step down from criticism. It’s when you start to get nasty. So is nasty your best? If not, then seriously consider wiping it from your agenda.
When you give your best and are at your best, you invariably attract the best in others. I’m not talking about ‘best behaviour’, I’m talking about bringing the deep, authentic, quality of ‘best’ within you, to the surface.
Combat defensiveness with not taking things personally
How easy is it to take things personally? OMG! I’ve done it so many times. And when I do, I almost always get defensive. And when that happens, there ain’t gonna no joy.
If I take a phrase or a comment or even a look, the wrong way, I can find myself on the wrong side of my ego.
When your ego gets involved, you know there’s trouble brewing. Your ego is the enemy of not taking things personally. “How could he say that”, “does she not see all the things I do around here”, “why am I being taken for granted”.
This is not to say that some of these things aren’t happening, but your reaction to them is the killer.
Let words be words, like the sound of cars driving past. They come and they go. Try not to latch onto them. I know when I stop taking things personally, I stop the urge to be defensive.
Combat stonewalling with not making assumptions
When you stonewall, you turn away. You’ve made an assumption about what is going on with another person, and you are having none of it.
Fair enough, if someone else is treating you badly. No need to stand in the face of asshole behaviour. But if your response is tainted with some sort of payback, then consider that you might be stonewalling.
As the old saying goes, to “assume makes an ass out of U and Me”. We don’t always know or understand what is going on for someone else. So try not to second guess, or assume you know, because without knowing for sure, you’ll always be making some level of assumption.
Between two people you have 4 hands. May each hand stand for one agreement. Unite and build. And as Biggie Smalls says: “If you don’t know, well now you know”.
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