“Happy marriages are based on a deep friendship. By this I mean a mutual respect for and enjoyment of each other’s company.” – John Gottman
“The four horsemen are symbolic descriptions of different events which will take place in the end times.” – Got Questions Ministries
For over thirty years, Drs. John and Julie Gottman have researched couple/marital relationships. The researchers established a Love Lab where they observed couple interactions for over twenty years. With the information gained from the Love Lab and various other studies the Gottmans are able to predict in five minutes, with over 90% accuracy, if a couple will stay married or get divorced (or stay miserably married).
One of the ways they are able to determine if a couple will make it or not is by observing how a couple communicates. John and Julie Gottman term the types of communication that predict divorce, The Four Horsemen.
The Four Horsemen
Criticism: This is when you verbally attack your partner. The attacks are often personal critiques. This type of communication draws attention to deficits and aims to cut the other person down. Criticism slowly erodes away at the trust and intimacy in the relationship. The partner using criticism has unmet needs and/or feels dismissed/unappreciated.
Examples of criticism:
- You never help
- You never pick up after yourself
- Why do you wear that shirt
- We never do what I want
- You don’t care about me
- You never listen
- You always put yourself first
Contempt: This involves name-calling, eye rolling, public shaming, and verbal humiliation. Contempt is used by a partner that typically reports not feeling loved, supported, and understood. Contempt is a form of lashing out and the most detrimental of all the horsemen.
Examples of contempt:
- You’re an idiot
- Are you dumb?
- You’re fat
- You’re lazy
- I hate you
- Why did I marry you
- You’re a bad parent
- Can’t you make more money
- Thanks for being a great provider (sarcasm)
- A mother actually watches her kids (sarcasm)
If you are using contempt, please stop now. This one characteristic destroys relationships.
Defensiveness: This is not taking responsibility for the role you play in the relationship. People get defensive when they feel badly or they feel attacked. I see defensiveness frequently and it tends to show up before contempt.
Examples of defensiveness:
- You never asked me to do that!
- I did not mean it that way
- I’m sorry but it’s not my fault
- You’re too sensitive
- This is your fault, not mine
- Why is this always my fault?
- I heard you the first time! Stop nagging!
Stonewalling: This is when people shut down and stop communicating. People stonewall when they feel it’s hopeless to keep going or they are flooded.
Examples of stonewalling:
- Turning away from your partner
- Walking away
- Actively ignoring
- Putting your hand up
- Shutting down
If you feel like you are engaging in any of the above types of communication with your partner all hope is not lost. Please share this information with your partner. It might be time to find a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist or a therapist trained to work with couples that can help provide you with healthier styles of communication. These communication styles only lead to divorce and misery if they are left unchecked. Now, consider yourself checked.
What You Can Start Doing Now
Slow down and breathe when you are communicating with your partner (it tells your brain that you are safe and do not have to be so reactive).
Pause, to really listen and try to understand your partner.
Ask questions using kind curiosity not defensiveness.
Tell your partner that you love them and appreciate them all day every day. The goal is not to avoid conflict or never fight but to learn the skills to engage in conflict in healthy ways. If you engage in active listening and patient compassion you will see remarkable improvements in your relationship. People in relationships that go the distance understand that they will never see things the same way because they are different people with different perspectives.
“Once you understand this, you will be ready to accept one of the most surprising truths about marriage: Most marital arguments cannot be resolved. Couples spend year after year trying to change each other’s mind—but it can’t be done. This is because most of their disagreements are rooted in fundamental differences of lifestyle, personality, or values. By fighting over these differences, all they succeed in doing is wasting their time and harming their marriage.”
― John M. Gottman,