Arguably the doyenne of marriage therapy is John Gottman, the creator of what he calls the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.” These “horsemen” are four traits Gottman notices in marriages headed for separation and divorce. The four horsement are:
Now, some defensiveness can be healthy. It’s a pattern of defensiveness we want to avoid. If people you love feel that they cannot raise issues, express feelings, request changes or talk about future plans, then you’ve likely developed a pattern of defensiveness. What’s missing? True, active, open communication.
The replacement behavior for defensiveness? Openness. Receptivity. You heard me right. The very perceived attacks you think so devastating might actually carry helpful information. Now, I’m not talking about accepting or being “open” to verbal abuse or anything of the sort. I’m talking about being open to the needs and requests of caring, loving people in our lives.
Often distorted beliefs get in the way of us being open to change. Perhaps we think, “I should always be perfect,” or “People should always be totally satisfied with their relationships,” or “If someone isn’t happy with me, I’ve failed.” These distorted, extreme beliefs—many of them formed when we were young—form the cognitive foundation for a habit of defensiveness.
Openness goes directly against the grain of our tendency to protect our own agendas. Once people get used to being open, they kinda like it, and often those who may have been critical, will be more generous as well.
Voila! Defensiveness gone. Communication happening. Love flowing.