Gottman’s Four Apocalyptic Horsemen

In Gottman’s therapy research he found that there were four distinctive negative traits that breakdown relationships from the inside out. Creating patterns that lead to vicious cycles that were uneasy to break. These negative traits influence negative communication between partners and in result create space leaving both unfulfilled. The four would be criticism, defensiveness, contempt, and stonewalling.

Criticism is nothing more than telling your partner there is something wrong with them as a person. One partner takes an issue that they have and project it on to their partner in a hostile way. In turn, leaving they’re spouse feeling attacked and vulnerable. Instead of focusing on a particular behavior the partner attacks, they’re spouse’s character by using nasty phrases like “You’re so selfish” or “You’re always mean”(I personally have done this before, and I try my best to make a conscious effort to focus on the problem. But more so to be sure that I’m not taking a negative tone. Most of all, not to curse rather it’s at my partner or about the situation. There’s never to be cursing within the safe space). This could also be apart of their communication style making the pattern unnoticed. How this form of communication can be relieved is by expressing feelings by using “I” statements and turning the focus on the issue instead of a person’s character. Followed by the expression should be something positive said and positive reinforcement. With some work between the two providing time, patience, and gentleness this could be an antidote to the negative manner of handling things.

Defensive communication comes from a place of self-protection. Righteous indignation or playing the victim would be the go-to during a dilemma or heated argument. This does not solve any real issues and leads to the place of both parties going around in circles. It’s really only an underhand way of blaming your partner and in turn, shifting said blame back. How this could be changed is by accepting responsibility instead of taking the high road. It’s always important to take accountability for your part in the situation(It takes two to tango boys and girls!). Contempt, the most passive-aggressive of the set and the least direct way to say I’m upset. But it’s also an attempt to express superiority in the argument manifesting as sarcasm, cynicism, name-calling, eye-rolling, sharing, mockery, and hostile humor.

Contempt is the greatest predictor of relationship failure and must be removed from the relationship expeditiously! The best way to handle this is by building a culture of appreciation within the relationship. By being gentle, kind to one another, and giving the utmost respect (I personally try my hardest not to roll my eyes or be sarcastic. Something I’m notoriously known for sadly. It normally happens when I hear something I personally don’t care for… By being direct and honest. Always keeping in mind that it’s ok to share my feelings. But in the right manner and not immaturely. Contempt in my opinion is the worse of the four and is the easiest to trip upon. Even I find myself jeering at some point. At one time or another, it happens. Be mindful and careful with your words/actions during a discussion it’s important to keep the safe space intact!).

The combination of the first three will be sure to bore the last which leads to the end, Stonewalling. Stonewalling occurs when the listener leaves the conversation without finding a common ground. Nothing is resolved and one part of the pair has decided for both parties nothing will be resolved. It takes time for the first three to lead into stonewalling but once the pattern has been formed it will become a habit if not addressed. Shutting down on your partner is never ideal in any situation and it should be understood. For me having open honest communication is the most important part of a relationship and should always be the first tool for solving all issues. We won’t always hear things that we like and the discussion at one time or another may get to a rocky place. The best thing to do is to take a break! When someone feels as though they are getting to a place where they are getting upset and overwhelmed, just step back. Take a breather and gather yourself while the tension settles. We all want to be heard when it’s an issue creating a imbalance within the relationship. Always remember it’s “us versus the problem” and never “You versus I”. With work, effort, and time we can undo The Four Horsemen and save the relationship from certain destruction. Relationships aren’t easy and it takes time to face the issues. But as long as you have someone ready and willing to do the work. Then everything will lead to a place of understanding and most of all validation. Good luck homies! Peace and blessings, Ase.


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