• Joseanne Spiteri

How to Destroy Your Marriage- The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

Updated: May 31, 2020

In his study of relationships, John Gottman revealed there are 4 patterns in a relationship, that when left unchecked, can actually predict divorce.


These are called the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. You may be reading about the Four Horsemen for the first time and, well done, this is a good first step to understanding the destructive interactional patterns that may be present in your relationship.


1. Criticism occurs when one partner has a complaint about the other. However, rather than complain about an issue/behaviour, the complaint is globalized and turns into an attack on that person’s character. The relationship problem is therefore blamed on a personality flaw of the partner’s. Now this does NOT mean that you can never complain to your partner. But it means you need to learn how to complain so that your partner can hear you. How well do you think your partner can hear you when your complaint sounds like an attack on his/her character? Calling your partner selfish, lazy or inconsiderate when they don’t do their share of the housework is likely to shut them down or raise their defenses.


2. Defensiveness occurs when one partner feels like they are being attacked. It is a natural response to feeling unjustly blamed or attacked even if the speaker did not actually intend to blame or attack. In other words, if the listener perceives the message as an attack, they will become defensive. Often times, the defensive individual either takes no amount of responsibility for their behaviours (i.e. You think Idon’t do my fair share of the house work?! Well what do you do around here?!) or takes all of the responsibility (i.e. you’re right, I’m the worst and I don’t know why you’re with me).


3. Stonewalling occurs when one partner shuts down in the midst of a conflict discussion. Although still present physically, all of their verbal or nonverbal cues indicate they are not engaged in the conversation. They may fall silent, fold their arms, or look away from their partner for a long period of time. This may occur for a number of reasons including attempting to control the conversation or a fear that continuing with the conversation will escalate matters even further. Finally, some people stonewall in order to calm themselves down and self-sooth.


4. Contempt is the most destructive and toxic of the communication patterns. Contempt is evidenced verbally or non-verbally by insults, sarcasm, mocking, eye-rolling, name calling, blame and put-downs. Partner flaws are expressed loud and clear and the contemptuous speaker puts themselves in a “one-up” or superior position to their partner. Contempt is not only the most destructive and predictive of divorce, but also threatens the recipient’s immune system in the next four years! Did you know that the more contempt there is in a relationship, the more likely the receiver will be prone to infectious diseases?!


If you are noticing these patterns of communicating in your relationship, it is not too late to get help and learn healthier ways to talk to each other. Take action and contact me on joseanne@georgetowncouplestherapy.com to learn how.