'The four horsemen of apocalypse'

PEASE AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, N.H. -- In this month's psychological health program article, problems that arise in close interpersonal relationships will be the focus of attention as they were in the January article; with an eye toward improving those troubled relationships.
As you might recall from that January article four common negative behaviors are considered corrosive to close relationships: criticism, defensiveness, contempt and stone walling. They are aptly named "The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse" and define those behaviors that essentially doom relationships over time if left unchecked. So, if you find yourself caught up in a relationship that is experiencing one or more of the four horsemen, and you would like to turn things around, it is not too late.

If you have not done so already, this is an important time to draw in counseling services to assist in the process. Since it is often hard to sort out problems when you are in the middle of a storm, soliciting help from an unbiased neutral party can bring a clear perspective to the process, and can help you to learn new skills which will promote relationship health and healing. Even if you and your partner have decided to head in separate directions, therapeutic assistance can be helpful to that process as well.

An important step in repairing relationship damage is to admit that a destructive problem exists which more than likely includes negative behaviors such as those associated with the four horsemen. If problems and destructive behaviors are not talked about openly and honestly, it becomes very difficult to begin improving things. Explore with your significant other the presence of problems and negative behaviors in your relationship, and how they are damaging your lives together. A therapist involved at this stage will help you and your partner to effectively communicate so that you can discuss these difficult topics together.

Take ownership. Every relationship is made up of at least two people. Let's face it, if there were not two people involved there would not be a relationship would there? One person cannot create a relationship problem without the involvement of another person. Once you and your partner have taken stock of things that are amiss in the relationship, own up to your share of the problems by asking your selves which behaviors of the four horsemen might you regularly engage in? Perhaps you might be overly critical or defensive? Maybe you put your partner down often, or continually try to evade or escape conflict? Invite your partner's feedback, but take the initiative when describing honestly how you are contributing to the problems. Working through these dialogues is the stock and trade of marriage and family therapists who can help you get to the root of these problems in a safe and respectful manner.

Once you and your partner have established that problems exist, and you have taken appropriate ownership of them, the work of repairing and healing can truly begin. Again this is best accomplished with professional counseling assistance since it can be very easy to slide back into comfortable behavior patterns; the same ones that got you into trouble in the first place. A therapist can help you to improve your ability to communicate effectively together, and can also assist you in changing maladaptive behaviors. At this stage, the focus of repair work often shifts to the home front where skills learned during therapy sessions are practiced.

Most problems can be worked out if both parties are willing to try. Professional assistance is often a necessary and vital first step in the journey of relationship healing.

In next month's Refueler I will highlight some concrete ways that you can communicate better and adjust your behavior when you suspect problems are growing within your relationship.

If you are unsure about your relationship and would like to talk about it further, please do not hesitate to reach out to 603-430-3373.