Gottman’s Four Horsemen is a term coined by psychologist Drs. John and Julie Gottman, who have studied relationships for over 40 years.
They have identified four communication patterns that are particularly damaging to relationships: criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling. These communication patterns are referred to as “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” because of the damage they can cause to a relationship.
The Four Horsemen are:
- Criticism: This is when one partner attacks the other’s character or personality, rather than focusing on specific behaviors that need to change. For example, instead of saying “I was really upset when you didn’t call me yesterday,” a partner who is criticizing might say “You’re always so irresponsible and forgetful.”
- Contempt: This is when one partner expresses disdain or disrespect for the other. This can take the form of name-calling, sarcasm, or eye-rolling, for example.
- Defensiveness: This is when one partner becomes defensive and argues against what the other is saying, rather than taking responsibility for their own actions. For example, instead of acknowledging that they might have made a mistake, a defensive partner might say “That’s not true, you’re just being overly sensitive.”
- Stonewalling: This is when one partner withdraws emotionally from the conversation, and stops responding to their partner. This can be expressed through silence, shutting down, or physically leaving the room.
It’s important to note that all couples will experience some of these communication patterns from time to time, but the key is to not let them become the norm. If The Four Horsemen are present in a relationship on a regular basis, they can lead to a breakdown in communication and an erosion of trust and intimacy.
To prevent the damage caused by The Four Horsemen, it’s important for couples to engage in open, honest and respectful communication. This may include seeking the help of a couples therapist or counselor, who can help you to develop the skills and techniques you need to communicate effectively.
If you’re in a relationship and are struggling with communication, it may be helpful to identify which of The Four Horsemen is most present in your interactions. By doing so, you can begin to work on improving your communication skills and strengthening your relationship.