The Four Antidotes: Healer of Relationships

In the last entry, I wrote about "The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse," or four common patterns that erode relationships: Criticism, Defensiveness, Contempt, and Stonewalling. All of these are responses to and generators of pain. Left unattended, these horsemen destroy relationships; attempts to self-preserve lead to other-attack, triggering an ongoing destructive cycle.

However, there is a way to reverse the cycle towards mutual care, compassion, and connection. Through what John Gottman calls the "Four Antidotes," the relationship can eliminate the toxic effects of the horsemen and foster genuine EMPATHY, or the ability to be deeply connected to another while remaining fully yourself.

WIN-WIN, Not Lose-Lose or Win-lose

The goal of the antidotes is to push each person's empathy button that makes room for both to fully exist in harmony. Here's what's behind each antidote:

  • Criticism --> Requests:

I am valuable enough for me to bring this to your attention. You are valuable enough to be invited to make a meaningful difference in my life.

  • Defensiveness --> Self-Responsibility:

I take ownership of what I am responsible for and change whatever is within my ability to enhance our relationship.

  • Contempt --> Appreciation & Respect:

Although you and I are different, you are just as valuable in this relationship as I am.

  • Stonewalling --> Self-Soothing & Reengagement:

Although this is a painful, I will remain emotionally connected to you. To do so, I need to take care of myself, so that I can fully show up for you.

The antidotes make it possible for each person to be fully valued and connected in their uniqueness. When a problem happens, each person takes ownership of his/her own role, brings his/her own gifting, and faces the problem together. In doing so, they become truly compatible: "to suffer together", not alone.

Practice, Patience, Perseverance, Purpose

All relationships involve pain and conflict. No one is immune. However, the goal of healthy relationships is not to AVOID fighting, but to fight FOR safety, trust, and connection. When things get tough, don't give up. Slow down, do self-care, and explore what may be interfering with your ability to connect with those whom you deeply love.

Like any skill, these antidotes take great focus, feedback, and fortitude. Cultivate these skills by  identifying your favorite horsemen and replacing them with the corresponding antidote. If any of your horsemen seem stubborn, consider working with a professional therapist so that you can unlock your ability to experience wholesome, thriving relationships.

To learn about couples therapy, click here.

© Copyright 2017 Joanne B. Kim. All rights reserved.

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Joanne B. Kim, AMFT

Joanne is an Associate Marriage & Family Therapist in San Jose, CA, who loves empowering individuals and couples to create emotionally thriving relationships. She fully believes that emotional health and relationship health have everything to do with each other: when one part hurts or heals, so does the other.

She holds a special place in her heart for adult survivors of emotional abuse/neglect and for high-conflict couples - those who desire deep connection, but feel stuck, anxious, and frustrated in their significant relationships.

What began as her own mission towards wholeness became a passion and calling to accompany others on their own journey to love and be loved. She loves creating a safe space for others to cultivate their curiosity and courage to explore the deeper places that hold the secret to meaningful relationships.


Further Reading

John Gottman & Nan Silver (2015). The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work: A Practical Guide from the Country's Foremost Relationship Expert.

The Gottman Institute (www.gottman.com)