The Gottman Method: The Four Horsemen and How to Fight Fair

While the Gottman Method offers various tools to help foster healthier relationships, one of the most potent concepts is that of "The Four Horsemen". Drawing from the biblical four horsemen of the apocalypse, John Gottman named these detrimental communication habits as Criticism, Contempt, Defensiveness, and Stonewalling, arguing they are highly predictive of relationship failure if not addressed.

1. Criticism: It involves attacking a partner's character or personality, rather than focusing on the specific action that's causing upset. An antidote to criticism is to make use of "I" statements, expressing how you feel and what you need, without blaming or attacking.

2. Contempt: This is a more destructive form of communication, involving mocking, sarcasm, eye-rolling, and name-calling, and it often arises from long-standing negative thoughts about the partner. To combat contempt, try to foster a culture of appreciation and respect in your relationship. 

3. Defensiveness: When feeling unjustly accused, we may play the innocent victim or counter-attack, both of which are forms of defensiveness. Rather than escalating the conflict, try to accept responsibility, even if it's only for part of the conflict.

4. Stonewalling: It involves withdrawing from interaction, shutting down, and closing oneself off to the partner, often as a way to avoid conflict. To counteract this, it's important to practice self-soothing and then re-engage with your partner.

While it's natural for these "horsemen" to appear in any relationship occasionally, if left unchecked, they can lead to greater conflict and distance between partners.

So, how do we "fight fair" with these insights? Here are some strategies:

Use Gentle Start-up: Instead of starting a discussion with criticism or sarcasm, begin with something positive about your partner or the situation.

Show Interest: When your partner speaks, show genuine interest. Let them know that their feelings matter to you.

Express Empathy: Try to understand your partner's perspective, even if you don't agree. Let them know that you understand their feelings.

Use "I" Statements: Instead of blaming your partner, express your feelings and needs. For example, "I feel upset when…" instead of "You always…".

Keep It Short and Sweet: Try to state your feelings or needs in as few words as possible. This can help prevent your partner from feeling overwhelmed or defensive.

Soothe Yourself and Each Other: If a conversation becomes too heated, it's okay to take a break. Once calmed down, you can re-engage in the conversation.

Compromise: Relationships involve give and take. Be open to finding a middle ground where both partners' needs are considered.

Accept Influence: Be open to your partner's perspective, and let them know that their opinions and feelings are valuable to you.

"Fighting fair" isn't about avoiding conflict, but rather about managing it in a way that respects each partner's feelings and needs. By understanding and applying these strategies, couples can replace the four horsemen with more constructive habits, fostering a healthier, more resilient relationship.