Couples and Relationships: Gottman's Four Horsemen

Drs. John and Julie Gottman, couples therapists, researchers, and workshop leaders, teach therapists and couples to be on the look out for what they call “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” or “the four signs of the end”.  They are:

Criticism. Criticisms are different than specific complaints.  Criticism is when you take something your partner has done and turn it into a personality flaw.  Instead of “I wish you wouldn’t leave your socks on the floor”, which is a specific complaint, it is “You are so lazy!”

Stonewalling. Stonewalling is when one partner shuts down and stops responding.  Stonewalling can be verbal, but can also be seen in physical signs such as turning away or crossing arms over the chest and retreating.

Defensiveness. Defensiveness happens when a partner hears a complain by his or her spouse and instead of taking some responsibility throws it back to the other.  “Oh, yeah! Well, you leave your shoes out in the middle of the floor every night!”

Contempt. Contempt is the most corrosive of the four horsemen and is an almost sneer towards your partner, looking down at him or her as “less than”.  Contempt involves eye rolling and disgust.

All marriages or couple relationships exhibit one or all of the horsemen from time to time.  Recognize them and work to, if not eliminate them, how to repair them.

A couples therapist can help you with this work. Don't feel like you have to do it alone. Let's normalize the idea of getting support for our relationships! They help make our lives healthy, joyful, and meaningful.

For more information on Gottman’s work see one of his many books including:

The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work: A Practical Guide from the Country’s Foremost Relationship Expert