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.
About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • 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).

  • Harold Alcorn

    Very helpful article.

  • http://antiitchmeditation.wordpress.com jeff weddle

    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.

  • 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

    http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL35C8C06BF7E33B88

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

  • http://restoringsoul.blogspot.com Ann F-R

    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.


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