The 4 Horseman of your “Relational” Apocalypse

One of the most common issues people say they are struggling with within their relationship is communication problems. This is vague and encompasses many different areas of life. In my experience, most people find John Gottman’s explanation of the 4 horseman as familiar examples of what they find occurring within their relationship.

John Gottman, who created the Gottman institute and has conducted some of the most extensive research available in studying couples and their communication paterns, is well known for his ability to predict whether newlyweds will stay married based on the way they communicate toward one another. Gottman also claims he is able to change these numbers if individuals are open to changing their communication patterns.

Gottman claims there are 4 negative communication patterns that lead to the end of a relationship. He calls these the “4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse” due to the destructive nature these communication patterns. The “4 Horsemen” are” Criticism, Contempt, Defensiveness, and Stonewalling.

Criticism: Attacking someone’s character. There is a difference between complaining and criticizing. Complaining focuses on specific behaviors “When the garbage isn’t taken out, I get really upset”, whereas criticizing focuses on the person, implying blame or a deficiency in who they are as a person. “You never take the garbage out, you are so lazy”.

Contempt: Putting oneself above the other usually with a statement or nonverbal behavior that insults or psychologically damages the other. Examples include; sarcasm, eye rolling, name calling, insults, sneering, and mockery.

Defensiveness: A form of self-protection following a perceived attack. This can take the form of making excuses, disagreeing, cross-complaining, whining, or repeating your statement without hearing the other person.

Stonewalling: Withdrawing from the interaction in hopes to avoid conflict or further attacks. Examples of this can be walking away when the other is still talking, giving the silent treatment, changing the subject, muttering, or only using one word answers while refusing to engage in the conversation.

Oftentimes it is easy to see these communication patterns in others, but do you ever find yourself engaging in such behaviors yourself? If so, now is the time to stop. I’ll share some methods to change these patterns in another post. However, the first step is to acknowledge when and how you are using these patterns and to stop them.

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