GUEST EDITORIAL: The Four horsemen of marriage...and politics
The following is from the New York Times: "Many (Democrats and Republicans) despise each other, and to a degree that political scientists and pollsters say has gotten significantly worse over the last 50 years. ... Members of the two parties are more likely today to describe each other unfavorably ... even as unsuitable marriage material."
That report, published more than a year ago, was based on results from a Pew study that found "partisan antipathy" is deeper than at any point in the last two decades. The Times also reported how Pew studies showed that 45 percent of Republicans and 41 percent of Democrats felt the other party's policies are a threat to the nation.
There's more: Opposing party members are likely to find the other side difficult to reason with. In 2016, for instance, Pew determined that 70 percent of Democrats and 52 percent of Republicans considered members of the other party to be more closed-minded, along with possessing higher rates of immorality, laziness and dishonesty.
A threat to the nation? Unsuitable for marriage? Lazy and dishonest?
Goodness. Whatever happened to reasonable political discourse?
In biblical terms, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse represent the end of times, assuming the form of conquest, war, famine and death.
In a more contemporary analogy, the Four Horsemen of Marriage are a metaphor to predict divorce or the end of a relationship. These riders are criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling, so dubbed by the late Dr. John Gottman, a researcher whose work helped determine factors related to marital stability.
As deep chasms continue to grow in American politics, it may be wise to consider how the Four Horsemen of Marriage, along with the Gottman Institute's suggested antidotes, could possibly help foster better relations and political patience between those with differing philosophies and opinions.
(Note: Much of the following text is borrowed from the Gottman Institute website.)
Criticism: Criticism is not the same as critiquing or even complaining, but instead is verbally attacking personality or character. The antidote for this, according to the Gottman Institute, is the "gentle start-up," or talking about beliefs using "I" statements.
Contempt: Attacking another with intent to insult or abuse. The antidote is to build a culture of appreciation. Remind yourself of the other person's positive qualities and find gratitude for positive actions.
Defensiveness: Victimizing yourself to ward off perceived attack and reversing the blame. The antidote is to take responsibility and accept the other's perspective while offering an apology for wrongdoing.
Stonewalling: Withdrawing to avoid conflict and conveying disapproval, distance and separation. The antidote is to take a break and find time to do something soothing or distracting.
Will acknowledging the Four Horsemen help save a friendship divided by sharp political beliefs, or from getting your lip split in a coffee shop debate?
Maybe not. But it's worth a try.