Four Relationship Defeaters

From Barking Up the Wrong Tree:

How can he tell who will split up? There are a number of indicators but at the core of Gottman’s research are “ The Four Horsemen.” These are the four things that indicate a marriage apocalypse is on its way:

  • Criticism – Complaints are fine. Criticism is more global — it attacks the person, not their behavior. They didn’t take out the garbage because they forgot, but because they’re a bad person.
  • Contempt – “…name-calling, eye-rolling, sneering, mockery, and hostile humor. In whatever form, contempt – the worst of the four horsemen – is poisonous to a relationship because it conveys disgust. It’s virtually impossible to resolve a problem when your partner is getting the message that you’re disgusted with him or her.”
  • Defensiveness – “…defensiveness is really a way of blaming your partner. You’re saying, in effect, ‘The problem isn’t me, it’s you.’ Defensiveness just escalates the conflict, which is why it’s so deadly.”
  • Stonewalling – Tuning out. Disengaging. This doesn’t just remove the person from the conflict, it ends up removing them, emotionally, from the relationship.
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  • phil_style

    I recall some research from about 10 years ago that indicated there was an extremely high success rate for predicting relationship-failure based on observing visible signs of contempt between partners.

    I agree that “contempt” is the worst of the four.

    And it’s strange how often people demonstrate contempt in their behavior…. (eyes rolling, sneering, mocking).

  • My grandfather, who used to do tons of marriage counseling, always told me to watch if the wife laughs when the husband tells a joke to see how well the marriage is going. I have found this to be a handy tip.

  • Harold Alcorn

    Very helpful article.

  • MatthewS

    Gottman has some great stuff. “The Marriage Clinic” is a practical and helpful book.

    The four horsemen is a great handle for seeing what you are looking at. I also like his “turning toward” and “turning away” idea, that relationship-building is often about the little moments of turning toward the person and being supportive.

  • ft

    four ten minute videos on the Gottmen Method. Best Marriage advice ever.

  • A colleague who leads marriage retreats started posting clips and article by Gottman on her page. I was intrigued enough to research more & I’ve been impressed – especially from my background of Christian conciliation – with how sound and healthy are the directions that his research confirms. I’m glad ft #5 posted a youtube link, because there are a number of youtube videos of Gottman speaking. (I think there are more than 4, IIRC!)

    He has just released a new book which addresses the issue of trust, which looms large in many troubled marriages (& other relationships, too!). I’m looking forward to reading it.