How Evolution Created Love As We Know It (According to Emotion Focused Couples Therapy)

As a Certified Gottman Couples Therapist, it’s an understatement to say that I am fascinated about the science of love. I have devoured most every book on the science of healthy relationships and attachment since graduate school. The theories on love captivate me. Helping couples to sustain a loving bond, or to repair a loving bond once it’s damaged—that’s my passion, and something I’ve built my career on.

Even today, I still hear new research, or ways of thinking about love that open my mind. I get excited all over again about this field and what we have to offer people in relationships. Sue Johnson, PhD, Emotion Focused Couples Therapy’s creator, is one of those researchers who never fails to impress me.

I have seen Sue talk a few times, and I also recently completed her new online certification in EFT recently. I’ve always loved listening to Sue—she has a charismatic way of talking about couples therapy, and love, that feels profound and almost evangelical (in a non-religious way).

For so long, social scientists, including psychologists and similar researchers, have been mocked by their pseudo-scientific theories and attempts to understand human romantic relationships. As far as love, affection, and love relationships are concerned, psychologists have failed. Psychologists knew very little about love, affection ,and what kept relationships together. What they’d said had been better said by poets and novelists. At one point, this kind of statement was true. But now we know better. Science has improved.

Sue describes how she believes love has evolved since the beginning of human kind:

We have a really clear idea of what romantic love is all about. What this drama that plays out in (the therapy office) is all about. Romantic love is not a strange mix of sex and sentiment, that you need to persuade people out of, or just give people some way of being more sexual, or more sentimental with each other. That’s not what it is. Romantic love is an ancient, widened survival code, widened by millions of years of evolution, designed to keep you—a bonding mammal—close to one or two people who you most depend on. and that you can call when you need. That’s what it’s about. And from that point of view, it’s an extremely functional behavioral system.”

Regardless of whether or not you believe in love, this theory of love, and human attachment, and how it has evolved over time, just makes sense. We need each other. There’s a reason most people still want a long-term marriage or monogamous relationship. It’s adaptive and has become wired in us. The happiest people I’ve ever met have been those in satisfying, long-term relationships, with close connections to their partner, and to their family. We need each other. Life is hard enough, and as social creatures, we’ve adapted to survive and thrive together.

The Gottman Method and Emotion Focused Therapy are both founded in the research of love and agree that human relationships that work may all be unique in some ways, but all the healthy ones follow some pretty similar patters, both in terms of attachment, trust, commitment, and building a life together.


Stephanie Cook

Stephanie Cook, LCSW, is an Atlanta area therapist and owner of a private psychotherapy practice, Counseling ATL, LLC, located in Decatur, an in-town suburb of Atlanta, GA. She has expertise providing counseling to individuals, couples, and families and primarily specializes in work with young adults and couples

Want a Better Relationship? Update Your "Love Map"

Stephanie discusses how in every day of your relationship, you are creating a "love map" of your partner, which is essentially your understanding of well you really know them. Intimacy depends on curiosity about who your partner is as a person. For this intimacy to be sustainable, these "love maps" need ongoing updates, otherwise you may lose touch with the person your partner is becoming as time passes. In a happy, long term relationship, who your partner is today is not who your partner will become in 10 or 20 years, and so on (how boring would that be if we never evolved!). 

So maybe you haven't "updated" your love map in a while? Well the good news is you can get to know your partner again and again, for who they are today. So go ahead, get to know each other better. Start by asking the questions in the "Love Map Questionnaire" on my blog post today.

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Fondness & Admiration: Key (However Mushy) Ingredients for Happy Relationships

I often recommend Dr. John Gottman's most famous book, Seven Principles of Making Marriage Work, to any of my clients interested in improving their relationship, married or not. In couples therapy, I teach the skills in this book to help partners with the many difficulties related to conflict styles, communication, and strategies to heal long-term romantic relationships. 

If you're looking to build strong, sustainable, happy relationship, you have to work hard to keep liking your partner. No matter how much you love someone, if you spend enough time with them, you can grow annoyed and bored if you stop appreciating them . But this doesn't have to happen. Everyone can learn to create a healthy relationship with a culture of "fondness and admiration". 

In today's blog post, I share with you the key findings from Dr. Gottman's research on fondness and admiration, which is the second principle of making a marriage work.

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How to Not Destroy Your Relationship When You're Mad

Jessica Settle, MFT, discusses what you can do when your arguments get heated, so that you don’t destroy your relationship. In Gottman Method Couples therapy, which is the single most evidence-based form of couples therapy, based on decades of research on thousands of couples, we’ve learned a lot about what healthy couples do, and what disaster couples do….

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How To Be There For Your Partner During Difficult Times

Reflections on 9/11

Jessica Settle, MFT, therapist at Couples Counseling ATL, reflects on 9/11, and discusses how even an anniversary of a horrible tragedy can be isolating, but you don’t have to do it alone.

All Feelings Are Normal

Days like this can bring about many understandable feelings, including (but not limited to) anger, sadness, loss, fear, gratitude, hope, despair, etc. There are many ways that an individual, or both individuals in a relationship, can struggle on difficult days, whether due to a national tragedy, or a personal tragedy.

None of us can change the past, but these experiences don’t have to be isolating. You don’t have to suffer the past alone.

Coping Together

Although it’s 100% okay to want to be alone, it’s also okay to want to reflect with someone, to talk about it, to ask for support. Actually, talking about it with your partner can benefit most people, and strengthen relationships, as long as you do it in a healthy way:

  • Both people need to be open and willing to hear what their partner is experiencing

  • Take turns talking and listening

  • Allow any feelings

  • Ask open ended questions

  • Make eye contact

  • Nod, and give vocalizations that you’re following, such as “uh huh”, “yeah” and “that makes sense.”

  • You and your partner can talk not only about the hear and now, but the then and there. (i.e. Where were you when the towers fell? What were you feeling?)

Whatever difficult experiences or tragedies you’ve personally faced, any struggles, no matter how difficult to discuss, can eventually become a topic for you and your partner, as long as there is safety. Any topic, but especially difficult ones, can be another way to connect, and to feel less alone.

Talking Strengthens Friendship (the Core of Healthy Relationships)

We know that according to the research by the Gottman Institute, that healthy relationships mean deep friendship. The kind of friend you can share anything with, and feel anything with. Who is there for you—if and when—you want to talk.

Does Your Relationship Need Help?

Need help with your relationship? Struggling with feeling connected and intimate? Or is conflict getting in the way? Please schedule your first session either 1) online or 2) call our assistant, Tiffany, at 678-999-3390 to schedule your first session with Jessica, or any of our other counselors. Want more information? Visit our website at


Stephanie Cook

Stephanie Cook, LCSW, is an Atlanta area therapist and owner of a private psychotherapy practice, Counseling ATL, LLC, located in Decatur, an in-town suburb of Atlanta, GA. She has expertise providing counseling to individuals, couples, and families and primarily specializes in work with young adults and couples

Too Stressed to Connect


Stressed Man.jpg


Right now, you may feel tired, stressed, and frustrated. Perhaps you feel disconnected or lonely. You and your partner keep falling back into the same dysfunctional pattern, and you just don't know how to stop it. Neither of you mean for it to happen, but from the time you get home, you're arguing. Or worse--you're living in silent tension. 

If you're feeling tired at the end of the day, and all you want to do is completely detach every night, that's a problem. Even if you love your spouse, mismanaged chronic stress is a relationship-killer.

Thankfully, you realize that this sort of stress is killing your relationship. Maybe it's work. Maybe it's the kids. Maybe it's one of a hundred other possible stressors. But one thing is certain: you don't connect anymore.

Instead of talking, laughing, and spending time together, you've started turning away from each other as a source of stress relief. 


Most couples don't realize that even seemingly healthy ways of coping with stress may be competing with your connection to the most important person in your life. To deal with your stress, if throw yourself into your "gym routine" every morning, waking up earlier than your partner, and going to bed earlier than your partner, if you're not prioritizing time with your partner, something else is winning. The result: you've become two passing ships in the night, leading parallel, but distant lives.


Like most modern couples, at night, both of you may rather be on your iPhones, or staring at the TV, but not interacting. Even if you used to love talking with your spouse, you may now simply want to "deal" with your stress in a way that doesn't involve your partner. Finally! Time to curl up on the couch, and just scroll through your smartphone. You're just so drained. The result: two screen zombies who don't know each other anymore.


But what does all that disconnecting mean for your relationship? You may think you're taking care of yourself by detaching from everything and everyone, including your spouse, but if you're not investing in your relationship anymore, it's already dying. 

A recent British study revealed one in four couples sleep in separate beds due to the stress in their lives. Maybe you, too, are experiencing emotional distance. Or you've have stopped having sex. Your inability to manage your stress is taking a toll on your relationship.


Most couples didn't intend to fall into these dysfunctional patterns. Most of us get married hoping to live happily ever after. But when stress starts impacting both of you in the real world, conflict can mount, putting your relationship on rocky ground. 

Stress happens to the best of us, and most of us weren't taught how to manage it in a way that brings us closer, rather than further disconnecting us. Thankfully, there is a research-based form of couples therapy based on thousands of couples, studied over decades, to find what makes the "masters" and the "disasters" of relationships.

The Gottman Method of couples therapy is not only research-based, it's educational, highly structured, and time-limited. You'll learn practical ways to create lasting happiness and real connection in today's stressful world. 


Stress and emotional distance often go hand in hand, but they don't have to. Relationships are prone to slowly cascade into disappointment and frustration when you aren't intentionally investing in maintaining connection. And even the healthiest of relationships go through periods of disconnection. However, if you barely see each other during these stressful times, and it becomes a pattern to disconnect, your few precious hours a week together may soon become uncomfortable and tense.

If you've already let this happen, you're not alone. It's a problem many couples face when one or both partners fall into a stress trap. But it can be helped!


Perhaps you tried other forms of "couples therapy" without success, and you're looking for something more effective.  You may have never tried couples counseling before, but maybe you have reached the point where something needs to change in your relationship, and you don't want to waste your time and money on something that doesn't work. 


At Couples Counseling ATL, helping couples is our specialty; we are proud to use the most effective and evidence-based form of couples therapy available today. Learn more about the world-renowned Gottman method of couples counseling here


Jessica Settle, MFT, is a talented Gottman Method couples therapist, and specializes in helping millennial couples. She is particularly talented at helping couples struggling with chronic stress, phase of life (newly married, new babies), infidelity, multicultural differences, and trauma histories. She works at our Poncey Highlands office, and completed her Master's Degree in Mental Health Counseling. Jessica explains in the video session below how she frequently helps couples learn to better manage stress using the "stress reducing conversation", a proven, research-based technique that couples can use to stay connected during stressful times:



Jessica offers counseling Mondays through Thursdays, with convenient afternoon and evening hours.


Our Poncey Highlands counseling office is located the Poncey-Highland neighborhood of Atlanta, Georgia, which is centrally located near Midtown, Morningside, Virginia Highlands, Little 5 Points, Grant Park, Emory University, Decatur, Reynoldstown, Kirkwood, Edgewood, Ormewood Park, Peoplestown, and East Atlanta.


Call 678-999-3390 to speak with Tiffany Evans, our administrative assistant. Likewise, you may email us by contacting Tiffany at Jessica offers free initial 15 minute consultations by phone; we can discuss your goals and answer any questions you may have about our counseling services and how we can help you.


Get started today by scheduling your initial appointment or consultation online through our online scheduling portal, or by calling 678-999-3390 to speak with Tiffany Evans, our administrative assistant. Likewise, you may email us by contacting Tiffany at 

Thank you for being open to learning! We look forward to working with you!

If you're interested in learning more about creating a happy, healthy relationship, please view more of our blogs (see below). Likewise, if you're interested in seeing Jessica for Gottman method couples therapy, please get started by scheduling your first session (80 minutes) by calling our assistant, Tiffany, at 678-999-3390, or by visiting the online scheduling portal, to schedule!



Stephanie Cook

Stephanie Cook, LCSW, is an Atlanta area therapist and owner of a private psychotherapy practice, Counseling ATL, LLC, located in Decatur, an in-town suburb of Atlanta, GA. She has expertise providing counseling to individuals, couples, and families and primarily specializes in work with young adults and couples

Reading Between the Lines

In today's blog, Stephanie discusses the importance of more advanced listening skills, including "reading between the lines". We all communicate literally and directly sometimes, as well as figuratively and indirectly at other times. This is a skill of emotional intelligence that everyone can learn, and implement, to have healthier and happier relationships.

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How to Be A Great Listener... The Basics

How to Be A Great Listener... The Basics

Do you know how to listen to someone? Really listen? It seems simple, right? Well, not always. If you've been in a relationship for a while, you may fall into the bad habit of "half-listening" to your partner. In today's post, Stephanie discusses the basic components of effective listening, an essential skill for any healthy relationship, as well as the common pitfalls that many of us fall into. 

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What Couples Can Learn From the Ashley Madison Scandal

Stephanie Cook, LCSW, licensed psychotherapist and Gottman Method Couples Therapist, discusses the recent Ashley Madison hacking scandal in which over 40 million married users' information was released.  She discusses the real-world implications for the couples who have been affected by infidelity, why people cheat, and what couples can do about it.

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How To Predict Divorce

This blog post is part of my running series on marriage, based on the research and writing of Dr. John Gottman's famous book, Seven Principles of Making Marriage Work. I often recommend this book to any of my clients interested in improving their relationship, married or not. In couples therapy, I teach the skills in this book to help partners with the many difficulties related to conflict styles, communication, and strategies for healing wounds and creating happy, sustainable long-term romantic relationships. 

The Research

When Dr. Gottman studied couples in his experimental ‘Love Lab’, he asked them to argue and resolve a conflict. Then he followed them for decades, and was able to isolate the factors that contributed to which couples divorced. His findings showed the critical importance of conflict in predicting divorce.

What matters isn't if you argue as much as how you argue that makes the difference in your relationship. What he found were signs of possible relational problems/divorce that allowed him to predict divorce with up to 91% accuracy. The "signs" of impending divorce are also the very behaviors that I target in marriage therapy in order to help a couple salvage their relationship if they're headed to the brink of divorce. 

The Warning Signs of Divorce

#1 Harsh Startups

How you start up a difficult discussion with your partner--especially emotional or sensitive topics--is critically important to what happens next. Harsh startups are those kinds of conversations that start out badly, right out of the gate.

  • "The trouble with you is ..."
  • "Wow, that's just great. Thanks a lot."
  • "Why still haven't done the dishes...!?"
  • "My problem with you is that you never ...."

Notice the accusing and hostile tone of these words. It's critical or sarcastic, and reveals your feelings of contempt towards your partner. You are acting as if you're completely right and they're completely wrong. You're better than them. It's a quick way to make your partner defensive and get nowhere fast.

#2 The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

These are the four behaviors that are always toxic to a relationship, which I have discussed in more detail in a previous blog post. I've also added an additional fifth behavior that is just as problematic and leads to divorce.

  1. Criticism – you attack your partner's character--who they are as a person--instead of making a specific complaint (something your partner did or a situation). It's always better to complain about something specific, sending the message "I didn't like what you did that one time" rather than critically attacking who they are as a person, which sends the message “something is really wrong with you”. Complaints give your partner a way to fix things and make a better relationship. Criticisms push your relationship closer towards divorce.
  2. Contempt: When you're being sarcastic and cynical, you are showing contempt towards your partner. It's a sure-fire way to lead your relationship towards divorce! It's so bad that if you act this way regularly, research has shown that even your immune system suffers enough to make you more prone to sickness! Contempt includes things like rolling eyes, looking at your partner with disgust, sneering, mockery and using hostile humor. Contempt is the worst of all four horsemen, and is the biggest warning sign of future divorce. Sometimes, contempt is when you act like you are taking the higher “moral” ground, insinuating that you are better than your partner. When you allow long-standing negative thoughts about your partner to go unchecked in your mind, you inevitably create feelings of contempt towards them.
  3. Defensiveness: Carrying around a defensive chip on your shoulder is another way to bring about divorce. Maybe you show defensiveness by immediately explaining or defending yourself when your partner says anything remotely critical or complaining. You may act as though you're expecting an attack, even if that's not your partner's intent. You're on edge and ready for a counter-attack. When you're being defensive, you tend to be sending the message of righteousness, without blame, such as “it’s not me, it is you”. 
  4. Stonewalling: This is when you tune out, ice your partner out, or shut down. It usually happens after one of the other horsemen rears their ugly heads, and you get overwhelmed. Maybe you stop listening, stop making eye contact, or stop responding. Or maybe you only respond with "yes" or "no". It's about sending your partner the message, “I don't care”. 85% of the time, the partner doing the stonewalling is the husband, and we think it's for evolutionary reasons. Women tend to be able to physiologically calm down faster, but of course this is not always the case.
  5. Belligerence. This is similar to contempt, but it has such a particularly nastiness to it that it's worth mentioning separately. It's not one of the original "Four Horsemen", but Dr. Gottman considers it to be an honorary horseman and sign of divorce because it is so harmful to relationships. Belligerence is when you express your anger in an aggressive, threatening way. For example, you're acting belligerent when you say something like, "Maybe I should just leave you so that you won't have someone to blame all the time."

#3 Flooding

This is when you feel defenseless or shell-shocked, usually after hearing a bunch of criticisms, contempt or defensiveness. When you're feeling flooded, you get hyper-aware, on edge, and expect that your partner is “just about to attack me again”.

If you tend to stonewall, it's usually because you're trying to protect yourself against the feeling of being "flooded" with overwhelming emotions. When you get stuck in this state of mind, you're physiologically in a state of “fight-or-flight” body feels in danger. Getting occasionally flooding can be handled in a healthy relationship, but if you get flooded on a regular basis, your marriage can become in danger. 

When you're feeling flooded, undergoing the physiological changes that happen in a hyper-aware state (i.e. endocrine, heart-rate) can predict divorce for two reasons: 1) distress when dealing with the other; 2) hard to have a productive problem-solving discussion when distressed.

#4 Failed Attempts To Repair Issues

Healthy relationships require that you regularly repair misunderstandings and hurt feelings. When you do it well, you lower stress levels and conflict, and feel closer to one another. But when you repeatedly fail at repair attempts, you start to feel defeated, like nothing you try even works.

When the four horsemen take over your communication patterns, then you and your partner stop even noticing each others' repair attempts. It becomes a nasty feedback loop in which the “four horsemen” keep happening, then more flooding happens, and then repair attempts are ignored, until eventually you or your partner withdraws.

Positive sentiment override predicts the success of repair attempts. Four horsemen predict divorce by 82%. Add in the failed-repair attempts, and prediction percentage runs in the 90s. On the other hand, having the four horsemen, but with successful repair attempts, a stable relationship is likely. But when four horsemen moved in for good, repair attempts are incredibly hard to attempt, accept or even notice.

#5 Bad Memories

When past is re-written in a negative hue, divorce chances royally go up. For example, you gain strength or negativity from the adversity that you got through together. What matters most is how people frame the situation, which can lead to more negativity or positivity, etc.

When a couple has negatively "re-written" their relationship, they are nearing the end stage of their marriage. They may talk calmly about their conflict, or appear like they are doing somewhat well. They have already begun to emotionally divorce from one another. 

It's important to note that such relationships can still be salvaged, however. They will not only need to address their communication problems (i.e. harsh startups, the four horsemen issues) learn effective repairs; they will also need to improve their closeness and the quality of their friendship. This means improving things when they're not fighting., so that they'll even feel motivated to salvage the relationship and want to work for it.

The Final Stages Before Divorce:

  1. You believe that all the problems in your marriage are "severe"
  2. You feel that things over seems useless, so you decide to solve problems on your own, usually without your partner, and usually moving more and more away from your partner
  3. You start leading parallel lives (like "roommates")
  4. You start feeling lonely all the time (this puts you at a higher risk for infidelity, too)

If you recognize that your relationship has some of these warning signs, it means that divorce is likely if you don't get help. Gottman method marriage counseling has a proven track record for helping two willing partners. Counseling can help you get off the path towards relationship destruction, and back on track towards rebuilding your relationship into a fulfilling, stable, happy one.

If you're on the brink of divorce or separation, consider trying "Discernment Counseling". It's about deciding whether or not your relationship is "fixable" and whether or not you even want to invest in making it work. 

If you decide to start couples therapy, know that it's not about just learning negotiating skills or conflict resolution. If that's all you learn in your couples therapy sessions, your relationships isn't going to prevent divorce. You have to take it a step further and learn about what you can do when you're not arguing, by fostering a better friendship. That's when the "Seven Principles" come into play.


Stephanie Cook

Stephanie Cook, LCSW, is an Atlanta area therapist and owner of a private psychotherapy practice, Counseling ATL, LLC, located in Decatur, an in-town suburb of Atlanta, GA. She has expertise providing counseling to individuals, couples, and families and primarily specializes in work with young adults and couples

Unplug Your Phone to Connect Again

In today's blog, Stephanie discusses the importance of taking time to turn away from technology and towards your relationship. Small habits like this help you to connect to your partner and minimize the risk of slowly disengaging from the relationship.

Stephanie Cook, LCSW, provides in-person and online counseling services to adults, teens, couples, and families; she specializes in working with young adults and couples on improving themselves and their relationships. Stephanie owns a small private practice, Counseling ATL, LLC, located in Decatur, an intown-suburb of Atlanta, GA, near Emory University. Her blog is dedicated to helping people improve their lives and relationships.

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Want A Better Relationship? Start Turning Towards Your Partner More

Every day in your relationship, you have infinite opportunities to connect or disconnect from your partner. Dr. John Gottman calls these "sliding door" moments--getting ready for work, doing chores, cooking meals, etc. Each is an opportunity which presents you with a choice for how to respond to your partner, either towards closeness or distance. Learn how to "turn towards" your partner during these moments, to be emotionally available, rather than turning away from them, emotionally disconnecting from them. Even if your relationship has become disconnected already, learn how to start building more intimacy and closeness. 

Stephanie Cook, LCSW, therapist and writer, discusses what "turning towards your partner" is, what it looks like, and how to get help if you think too much "turning away" is happening in your relationship.


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What Works: The Truth About Happy Marriages

Dr. John Gottman's most famous book is based on his 40 years of relationship research: "Seven Principles of Making Marriage Work". Stephanie Cook, LCSW, discusses some of the findings of Gottman's research, including an introduction into these principles, which she uses to help couples, married or not, with the many difficulties related to conflict, communication, intimacy, and strategies for creating happy long-term romantic relationship.

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The Warning Signs of Emotional Abuse

What does emotional abuse look like in romantic relationships? In honor of Domestic Violence Awareness Month (October), Stephanie Cook, LCSW, discusses how emotional abuse develops, what it looks like, and how to get help if you think it exists in your relationship.

#BreakTheSilence #DomesticViolence #ShareYourStory #Awareness

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Taking Care of Yourself

In honor of World Mental Health Day, Stephanie explains the essential components of mental health and wellness, including healthy coping techniques and self care, as well as the symptoms of mental health problems and burnout.

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How to Stop Sabotaging Your Relationship

Stephanie discusses how to stop yourself from engaging in the types of habits that sabotage your relationship, especially when it's most difficult; when you are highly emotional, seeing red, or vulnerable to making bad decisions. We've all been there. You're hurt. You're angry. You're at risk for saying or doing something you can't un-say. Learn how to stop it.

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4 Relationship-Destroying Behaviors Every Couples Therapist Looks For

Stephanie Cook, LCSW, discusses the relationship-destroying behaviors that most couples are guilty of, and that couples therapists are always looking for. Stephanie also discusses how famous researcher and psychologist, Dr. John Gottman, found that the presence of these "Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse" can predict a relationship collapse in 93% of couples.

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