Relationship Minute: The Headless Horseman

The Headless Horseman is a character from folklore, traditionally depicted as a man on horseback who is seen either carrying his head or having lost it entirely. At times, he is depicted using a jack-o-lantern as a replacement (festive!).

Similarly, when you engage in one of the Four Horsemen (Criticism, Defensiveness, Contempt, or Stonewalling), you may feel as though you have lost your head and/or temporarily replaced it with a jack-o-lantern.

But just as spotting the Headless Horseman is a rare occurrence (no one in the folk tales encounters him at the feed store, offering his opinions in the comments section of a Facebook post, or struggling to assemble IKEA furniture), the Four Horsemen are not permanent states of being.

In most healthy relationships, a partner is not always critical, defensive, contemptuous, or stonewalling. Aside from Contempt, they are behaviors that even the happiest couples occasionally slip into.

The difference is that the “Masters” of relationships know how to keep the Four Horsemen at bay and maintain a high positive-to-negative interaction ratio, even in conflict.

So try to keep the Horsemen (Headless and otherwise) reined in to avoid any unnecessary scares.

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The Relationship Minute is from The Gottman Institute. You can sign up here to get it delivered to your inbox every Tuesday and Thursday morning.