Rescue Your Relationship From the “Four Horseman”

Written by Guest Author: Jonathan Miller, Ed.M., LPCC-S

“We want to stop fighting,” is what most couples say at their first therapy session. “That’s never going to happen,” is what John Gottman, Professor Emeritus of psychology at the University of Washington, would tell them. So why is he considered one of the most important figures in relationship counseling?


As illustrated by Albrecht Durer, ca. 1498

Gottman spent years studying couples and how they communicate. Although he came to see there’s no way to avoid conflict, he also found squabbles don’t have to spell doomsday. He identified four emotional reactions that shred relationships. He called them the “Four Horsemen”, after the Biblical figures who signal the coming end of the world. He also picked out four substitutes to make arguments productive.

From the least harmful to the most, the four riders are:

Criticism: “How can you treat me this way?” “You never think about what I want.” “Why do you have to be so selfish?”

Criticism is anything that implies something is fundamentally wrong with your partner. If you use words like “always” or “never”, it’s criticism. After all, if it happens every time, there must be something lasting about them and their character.

“Complaints” are more effective: “What you said hurt my feelings.” “When you don’t do your share, I wonder why I should do mine.” “That kind of language gets me really angry.”

This kind of complaint isn’t whining. Good complaints are specific about what your partner does, and what you’d like them to do differently. Be careful; if you give anyone with a long list of detailed complaints, it might as well be global criticism.

It’s worth the time it takes to spell out the problem precisely. Criticism often provokes …

John M. Gottman

John M. Gottman, PhD


Defensiveness: “Have you looked in a mirror lately?” “If you don’t like my temper, don’t talk like I’m an idiot.” “ME? What about you?”

When you feel attacked, you want to defend. It’s easy to believe your partner starts all the trouble, and easier to think your actions should be overlooked.

“Owning” part of the criticism, even a small part, will get their attention: “You’re right, I should have done the dishes.” “I talk to kids all day, so maybe I don’t realize how I sound.” “You did say you wanted to leave by 6:00 PM.”

If 90% of what your partner says is flat wrong, start by agreeing to the 10% that’s accurate. They’ll be more relaxed and open to the other things you want to say. Fight the temptation to rationalize what you’ve done or to point out your partner’s blind spots. They will get the message you don’t care about things that are vital to them. That can lead to …

Contempt: “I’m the only one who’s being logical here.” “If you don’t like it, get out.” “You’re just like your mother and I’m sick of you both.”

Contempt includes ridicule, eye-rolls, condescension or any kind of belittling comparison. It goes far beyond gentle teasing. When partners hold genuine contempt for one another, the relationship is most likely over.

Cultivate a “culture of appreciation” in your thoughts about the other person, and it can overgrow the contemptuous ideas: “He works really hard in the yard,” “She never keeps me waiting,” “He’s great with the kids.” You don’t have to pretend you aren’t frustrated. Write up a list of their good qualities and re-read it. Realistic, appreciative thoughts will balance your thinking and you’ll remember they aren’t garbage.

You don’t want them to think you see them that way. It can result in …

Stoneware stonewalling

Stoneware stonewalling

Stonewalling: (Nothing is said.)
When people feel overwhelmed by sadness, anger or fear, sometimes they shut down. They may look away, cross their arms or sigh heavily, but they won’t communicate.

Stonewalling hurts. It sends the message, “I don’t care enough to answer you.” Ironically, it’s often intended to help. If your partner grows quiet, it may be they don’t want to lose their temper. When one person thinks, “I’m going to keep my mouth shut so I don’t make it worse,” and the other thinks, “I’m going to keep talking until he shows me he understands,” it makes for a long, destructive, one-sided conversation.

To break out of stonewalling, “calm yourself and respond.” Slow, measured breaths will relax you enough to speak with an even tone. Even if you only say, “I’m agitated and I want a break,” you’ve told your partner you respect them enough to say that much.

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How Do I Know When Therapy Is Done?

I want to say here “What is the meaning of life?” though that question doesn’t completely relate to my topic above. On some measures it does though. Therapy is different for every single person. On a spiritual level, I know that you will know when it is “done” when you feel ready to leave. This does not mean that therapy is “done” as in forever if you are someone who really appreciates self-awareness and continuing to do in-depth work on yourself. If you are only there for a minor concern, such as an EAP (Employee Assistance Program, aka short term therapy) type matter, often times people get to a place where I know and they know, that there is really nothing more to say.  When I work with couples, I either know that I can’t really do much more for them or things are going really well and they are feeling great about themselves or a change is made and then the choice to continue becomes individual.

When it comes to a traumatic injury whether it be current or long-term (childhood), it is much more intense. Sometimes therapy is for the first time and then I am working with the client to help them to have a voice. It feels good for people to be able to finally say “This is what that son of a bitch did to me…” and for them to hear “That was terrible, OMG, I can’t believe someone would do that…” It is the first time they are getting validation. The wounded child is being soothed and nurtured. I watch them begin to stand up for themselves over time, in their personal lives, as they continue to be heard and acknowledged and respected in a safe environment. This is extremely rewarding for me as a therapist and obviously a huge break through for them. Then the client will at some point walk away from therapy for a bit – to take a break. Sometimes I know that the process is on hold for a short time until they are ready to return to me, or to someone else.

I am happy for a client to choose someone else, if they want to, once they have gone through a breakthrough with me. It is good for a client to get a different voice, a new method and from the place they are at now. Even if they haven’t had a breakthrough but still choose to go to another, it is okay too because this is what they need to do. It is the soul searching process that brings us to enlightenment on some level. The answers are there for you, as you continue to search and when you are ready, it will come.

When I get a client who has been with another therapist, I try to check in with them first, to see what worked and what didn’t work. This is important for me and for them. One, it helps them to have some closure if there was a negative experience and two, it helps them to celebrate the work they have already accomplished. This also builds trust as I am again giving them a voice right up front about being in the psychotherapeutic process.

When I work with someone who have been working on “this issue for years,” I acknowledge that now we are going to work from a different place than where they started. I listen to what they have already learned and accomplished but at the same time I am finding out where it all began (so that I am clear). Sometimes, I hear things or “see” things that maybe someone hadn’t put together before. This is because, when a client tells their story more than once, it changes (with their new voice, new insights they have had since then) so it makes sense that I will or might see things that another therapist did not see (and the same goes for one of my clients seeing a new therapist).

This is why it is important to not be frustrated with yourself when you find yourself needing therapy “once again.” Life impacts us hard and over the years, more things happen to us, we begin to see patterns of our own self-destruction, our mistakes, things we didn’t see at 20, become much more realized at 30, 40, 50, 60, and so on. I could not have told you any of this at 20, nor could I have been the therapist I am now at that age. When I become 70, I will be a much different therapist than I am now. Thank goodness! I hope I will learn something in the next 20 years. The same will happen with the client. We grow and we evolve. What we could expect in 1980, we most certainly cannot expect in 2015. That is sad on so many levels. Yet, this is something that people from the 1890’s would have said in the 1920’s as we see with Violette (Maggie Smith’s character) on Downton Abbey. So this creates depression, frustration, realization, awareness, many mixed emotions that at first can be quite daunting.

Therapy will end when you feel it is time to end. You are in control of your life and making this decision is one that should be made clearly and consciously and of sound mind. It should be made because you are satisfied with the results, though if you are not and find you need a different therapist this of course makes sense too. My only caveat is not to leave because you are confused or frustrated about what your therapist has said. Tell them and if the answer you get doesn’t agree with you intuitively, than you should move on. This has come up for me in the room on a few occasions and I try to deal with it head on. It is important for the therapeutic process, for trust and for the client to determine whether they are going forward with me or someone else. I have so far, only had positive results in these circumstances, except on a very rare occasion. Even then, I knew that it was not meant to be as I was not the right person for the job. I don’t believe in accidents in life. Things happen for a reason.

Finally, it is never wrong to be in therapy. If you are curious, questioning, concerned, unsure, frustrated, grieving, upset, unhappy and what to make a difference in your life…than therapy is a great place to be.

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The Narcissistic Mother

Guest Writer: Tina Fuller, author of “Its My Turn.”

My name is Tina Fuller and I am healed from the damage of having a high-range narcissistic mother.  As you already know, having a narcissistic parent/s is an awful environment to grow up in.  Like many others in this situation I grew up with low self-esteem, never feeling good enough, and all alone in the world.  At around the age of 42, I discovered my mother was narcissistic. I knew something was wrong with my mother, but didn’t know what it could be. Luckily, I happened to stumble across the 9 characteristics of narcissism.  The article said, a person must display 3-5 of them to be considered narcissistic.  My mother displayed all 9!  
I decided to learn all that I could about narcissism. I wanted to be absolutely certain that my mother was in fact narcissistic.  I did research, read books, and watched documentaries.  I was on a mission to get the truth.  I suffered for 42 years and wanted to get rid of the pain and damage she had caused. I now had my own family and didn’t want any of her negative behavior affecting mine. Knowledge is power. If you think your parent is narcissistic, learn as much as you can about narcissism.  This will truly help you in the healing process.

After several years of my diligent effort to become whole, I felt obligated to share my knowledge and experience with others who were suffering and experiencing the same pain that I had been through.  I remembered how lost and lonely I felt, and in desperate need of answers. I had found several good books that clinically explained narcissism, but didn’t offer any real answers concerning what to do for myself.  I decided to help others by writing a book!  It’s My Turn explains narcissism, how narcissists think, and gives real life examples that people could relate to.  I also wanted to provide ideas and solutions that describe what to do for yourself.  I wanted to let others know that you can heal from this, and how to do it.  I developed a 4-step program called P.A.C.E. (protect, accept, change and empower) to help others to heal. 

In writing “It’s My Turn,” I learned that all my pain and suffering would now be used to help others. Something good was going to come of it!  My book is being used in support groups here the US and the UK.  Children of narcissists need to be validated and heard.  I want others to know that you can heal from this.  It takes work, but it is worth every minute to be free from the grip of a narcissistic parent.
It’s My Turn is available on Amazon worldwide. (kindle & paperback)
If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me at:
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Children’s Mental Health As Important as Physical Health


This is a very powerful message about mental health and children. While we are not in the UK, we have many places locally that serve young children and adolescents. The best place to look for someone in your area is to go on At the top of the page click on Find A Therapist, then put in your zip code and then you narrow down your selection by clicking on the different variables provided. (Note: Psychologytoday is a nationwide website).

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Holistic Health

holistic doctor

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SAD at Winter Time

5 things you may not have known about SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder)

*This article is copied from the bi-weekly e-newsletter for (Mental Health  America of Franklin County)

According to American Family Physician up to 20% of the US population may experience mild Seasonal Affective Disorder, meaning they are negatively affected by the changing seasons and reduc. They may feel depressed, irritable, and tired. Activity levels may decrease, and they find themselves sleeping more.

Some interesting facts about SAD include:

1. It is four times more common in women then men.
2. Although some children and teenagers get SAD, it usually doesn’t start in people younger than age 20. And older adults are less likely to experience SAD.
3. SAD is believed to be related to daylight, not the temperature. Some experts believe that a lack of sunlight increases the body’s production of melatonin.
4. This is probably why it is more common the farther north you go. For example, it’s seven times more common in Washington state than in Florida.
5. Not as common, a second type of seasonal affective disorder known as summer depression can occur in individuals who live in warmer climates. Their depression is related to heat and humidity, rather than light.

SAD is treatable. If symptoms are mild, using light therapy has shown to be highly effective. Studies show that between 50% and 80% of light therapy users have complete remissions of symptoms. However, light therapy must be used for a certain amount of time daily and continue throughout the dark, winter months. For more severe cases,  your doctor may also want you to try an antidepressant or behavior therapy.

For in-depth information about dealing with SAD, check out Norman Rosenthal’s book, Winter Blues. 

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If He/She is Not Right, Keep Walking and Don’t Give Up

We know what we don’t want, yet we keep attracting it into our lives. When we get it, we desperately cling to it and then try to change it. This isn’t the answer but because we are so impatient to find the right one, we figure we might as well fix what we have. This only causes us to be stuck in a rut, with whom we don’t want, because we are afraid to keep trying.

No one is going to change “for us.” Would you change because someone asked you to? Especially when the underlying message is “I can only love you, if you change for me. Then we will be perfect!” Don’t answer this with a yes too quickly. Most likely people have been asking you to change for years.

Your boss wants you to change, your teacher thinks you could do better, your parents say you aren’t striving hard enough and then your relationship says “I just can’t be happy with you unless…”

So, here you are in a situation that isn’t going to change. Walk away. You made a mistake, he/she isn’t the one. The longer you’ve been with them the harder it is, yes, I am aware of this. However, the longer you continue, the worse it will get. I am not talking about a relationship that has communication issues. These can be dealt with – but if they can’t be – let them go. Don’t beat a dead horse, expecting them to get up.

Don’t be afraid of change though. Don’t let change be the reason you stay stuck with what you have.

Lets say you have really worked hard to change yourself. You have brought your self-awareness to a level that has made you feel proud of whom you have become. Then a guy/gal walks into your life and immediately you realize you have attracted the past all over again. That is okay, you realized this right away. The plus here is that you didn’t stay several years with him and then wake up one day to see the big picture. You saw it now. So be proud of yourself and keep walking forward.

Self-awareness doesn’t reward you with a gift certificate to the “Perfect Guy (Gal),” store. You don’t walk out of your door and suddenly there he/she is walking down the street. You have to prove yourself a few times, it is your muscle being tested and flexed to make sure it REALLY works. You may think you have self-awareness but until it is actually put into place, it isn’t anything but your ego telling you, you have done a great job.

That smarts, doesn’t it? All this time, you thought you had really become enlightened and were a guru in the making. Then reality smacks you really hard when the person you think is your destiny, because you were super ready for this, turns out to be just the same old narcissistic prick you’ve seen before, only this time he/she played his/her cards differently, so you thought he/she was special. The universe is like that. Though it is really us floating on that flying carpet we created in our minds and we woke up when we saw the ground was right under our butts.

Its okay though.  Don’t give up on working on yourself or continuing to go toward that goal of being a really great person. One day you won’t need to say “I have self-awareness now.” Your heart will be open and inside you will feel deserving and without saying it, it will just happen, you will attract Mr./Mrs. Right and you will just keep walking down that path together. Before you know it, you will look back and realize there weren’t any red flags to focus on and suddenly you will at some point even see what was different about you this time then all those other times before.

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Running from Crazy – For Families with Mental Illness

This is a trailer for the film “Running from Crazy.” A documentary about Mental Illness as told by Mariel Hemingway. After watching the trailer, you can download it from Netflix. It is worth watching if you have someone or several someones in your family who are mentally ill or an addict. If someone in your family is an addict, they are merely covering up what lurks deep beneath in the cesspools of their mind. Mental Illness, whether it is wrapped up in street pharmaceuticals, alcohol or prescriptions, is still mental illness.

Don’t be afraid to discuss your families problems. Out loud. Take the shame out of these words, stop the denial and help turn the family legacy around to a positive. With treatment, love, support and communication, this goes from being a stigma to a managed solution.

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Jon Kabat Zinn Guided Meditation

Before you begin your journey, this Thanksgiving, take 20 minutes to listen to a guided mediation. Note: There is some moments of silence, just be patient and continue your meditation. It is not completed until you hear the final three bells.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Mindful Driving

Drivers are more and more dangerous on the streets and highways than ever before. The notion of mindfulness has begun to be the buzz word of the day and so I continue to think about this as I am behind the wheel. What would it look like if we all drove mindfully?

When you go to your car, truck, or whatever mode of transportation you might work in (subway, semi, train) it is important to focus on the task at hand. First, thinking consciously about your vehicle when you turn it on. How does it sound? Do you have enough gas? Do you need lights on? What are the road conditions that you are about to embark on? Have you sufficiently prepared your self for the weather of the day with proper clothing? I think about pilots when they are about to fly and all the preparations that go in to getting off the ground. You are the pilot of your vehicle and the same attention must be paid to the safety of your self and others. While you may not have 300 passengers in the rear, you have hundreds to thousands (i.e., LA) of people next to you on the road.

Every time you get behind a wheel, it is important to be conscious of these things as your mindset will affect the lives of so many people. And not just those on the road directly but their families who will indirectly bear the burden of the decisions you make.

As you enter the street, from your own driveway, thinking about the world you are about to embark on. Who is coming out of their driveways? What is on the road in front of you? Do you need to keep a watchful eye for animals (deer, squirrels, domestic pets), in your neighborhood? Of course don’t forget children on bicycles or playing on sidewalks – is their ball going to slip out onto the street and then they go running after it? Mindfully taking in all that is around you.

When you get to the end of the street it is important to stay behind the stop sign. If there is no stop sign, you are still mandated to stay at the end of the street, not out into on-coming traffic where people will now have to get over to go around you, thereby making it even slower for you to turn right or left. When you are causing traffic to re-route for your decisions, it causes more stress on everyone around you, including your self. This also causes people to then be mindful of every street corner, expecting people to come racing out and being the cause of constant braking.

Traffic lights are extremely important to focus on. If you are unfamiliar with the neighborhood, don’t race through the yellow light that may only stay that way for a few seconds. Going through a red light puts an entire intersection in danger and it is playing Russian roulette. What good does it do your body if you smash into another driver who had the green light? If there is a storm and the traffic lights are out, there are rules for crossing the street. Each side takes turns as you then become mindful of an imaginary stop sign. It does no one any good if you are in the middle of the street, five cars deep, sitting there so that no one has a chance of crossing. Most states have laws about blocking the streets in traffic (with or without a light that is working).

As you enter the entrance to the freeway/highway/interstate, whatever you code this federal or state boulevard. Mindfully focusing on everyone around you. As we learned in Driver’s Ed, what is happening in front, to the right, to the left, and in behind? Watching all directions and paying attention to what is going on. When you are switching lanes, have you indicated this with your lights? Is there at least a car lengths space between you and the driver in front and back? With more than three lanes, what is the guy to the left doing? Is he also trying to get into the same lane you are going to? For those behind the car trying to switch lanes – giving them the common courtesy of getting over. If you are in a merge lane, this means you have an imaginary yellow light (you take caution when approaching on-coming traffic). People on the freeway are not meant to put on their brakes so merging traffic can come in. It is best when those on the freeway can get over for merging traffic, if that is possible but when you have a merging lane and an exit lane in the exact same place, this is rather difficult for all involved. Again, being mindful of driving carefully and cautiously of all around you.

Traffic for work – we are all going to work, you are no exception. Driving at the pace of others will do the least amount of damage if we are all focused together. Whether you are five minutes late or fifteen minutes late, you are still late. You still run the risk of getting written up by your boss. If you are thinking that you need to race to be a few minutes less late, you are putting others in danger and run the risk of hitting someone. Then you will likely be up to an hour (or more) late for causing traffic damage. Racing to get to work also causes stress on the other drivers around you. Those people who are driving mindfully and were conscious of leaving at the correct time that day, are having to be distracted by your mistakes. People become nervous and when this occurs they make mistakes too. Some people on the road are brand new drivers, going to their first jobs. Dealing with people who are racing to work can cause an inexperienced driver to have an accident at your expense.

Racing to get to work and racing to get home. You are racing to get somewhere that many people don’t want to be at and then you race to get home to complain about this. How much of your life is wasted by racing? How would your day be at work if you were mindfully driving to get there? How would your evening be at home if you were conscious of being in the car on the way home? Your life exists behind the wheel, not just what happens after you get out. The saying “Be Here Now,” means that. There is also another favorite quote “Life Wastes Itself When we are Preparing to Live.” When you arrive out of breath, you have missed out on minutes of your life that you can not get back.

Take care of yourself on the way to work or where ever it is you are headed. Have nice relaxing, calming music playing to help you be mindful of the road. This type of music also helps people to be less stressed. It doesn’t matter what genre the music is in, if you feel happy and want to smile, then this is the music for you. For long trips, use audio books to enjoy the time in a quality way. There are also CD’s to learn a new language. What a wonderful and different way to travel.

Mindful driving would change our world and make us a part of the world around us.  Without mindful driving, we are merely one person against others rather than one person amongst others. Think of this the next time you get behind a wheel. You might just end up saving a life today.

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