Understanding Gottman's Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

What makes a relationship healthy? What is the secret to a happy marriage? Is it communication, love, or commitment? John Gottman's research has revealed that those are not the answer. In his book "The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work", he explains that what makes relationships successful is how partners respond to each other during conflict situations. In this blog post, we will explore Gottman's Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and how they affect relationships in order to help you create a happier life with your partner!


Where it all started


couples problems
"What's causing a rift between us?"

The Gottman Institute is a research-based organization founded by Dr. John Gottman in 1979, which provides training programs and couples therapy to help people work through their relationship problems. The institute's main focus is on the connection between emotions and behavior, with the goal of helping couples improve their communication skills, reduce conflict, understand each other better, and strengthen their relationships.

Dr. John Gottman has identified four behaviors that are predictors for divorce: criticism, contempt, stonewalling (or "emotional distancing"), and defensiveness - sometimes called the Four Horsemen of Apocalypse because they seem to be so destructive to emotional connection within a couple."


These four behaviors can be seen in any relationship, but they are especially dangerous in a marriage or committed partnership. They can lead to resentment, frustration, anger, and a general feeling of disconnection from one another. If you're experiencing any of these Four Horsemen in your own relationship, it's important to seek out help from a qualified couples therapist.


The Four Horsemen of Negative Interactions



Let's take a look at the four horsemen according to Gottman:


1. Criticism



According to Gottman, Criticism can lead to a lack of respect and trust in a relationship. When we criticize our partner, we are essentially saying that they did something wrong or failed to meet an expectation of ours. This can create feelings of shame within them which leads to them feeling defensive instead of willing to work on the problem at hand.

Criticism refers to attacking your partner's character or personality, rather than their actions. For example, saying "You're lazy" or "You're always late."

2. Contempt



Contempt is defined by Gottman as being more than simply putting someone down - contempt actually means dehumanizing your partner, showing disgust for their actions or behaviors, making "you" statements vs "I" statements when you're talking about the other person's behavior, sarcasm, mocking each other with imitation, etc. This type of communication has been linked to destructive patterns like stonewalling (shutting your partner out emotionally and physically).


Contempt is when you communicate in a way that makes your partner feel like they're worthless, stupid, or bad. It can involve mocking them, rolling your eyes at them, insulting them, or treating them like they're not worth talking to. Stonewalling is when one partner shuts down and withdraws from the conversation entirely. This can take many forms - shutting down completely, tuning out and not responding, walking away mid-conversation, or simply ignoring everything their partner says.

Contempt can be felt even through basic communication flaws, for eg., "You never listen!" vs "I feel unheard".

3. Defensiveness


Defensiveness is a way of avoiding responsibility for your actions and instead of turning the tables on your partner. It can also involve making excuses, denying that there's a problem, counter-attacking your partner, or simply withdrawing from the conversation.

All of these communication styles have been linked with negative outcomes in relationships, such as decreased satisfaction, lower levels of trust and respect, more frequent arguments, and overall poorer relationship quality. If left unchecked, Gottman warns that they can lead to problems in the relationship such as the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

For example, you might say "It's not my fault that I didn't do the dishes - you never said you wanted them done!" or "I don't deserve to be treated this way - you're always so critical!"

4. Stonewalling


Imagine having a close relationship with someone and suddenly it feels almost like you're being shut out. Stonewalling in relationships, according to Gottman, can be when you refuse to engage with your partner and withdraw from the conversation. This can be very damaging and lead to feelings of loneliness, isolation, and even betrayal.


In order to prevent stonewalling from becoming an issue, it's important for couples to be able to effectively communicate their feelings and needs. If one partner feels like they're not being heard or that their concerns aren't taken seriously, they may resort to stonewalling as a way of showing their partner how unhappy they are.


If you feel yourself beginning to stonewall your partner, try taking a few deep breaths and express what it is that you're feeling in that moment. It can also be helpful to ask your partner for some time alone if you need some space to calm down. By communicating with each other in this way, couples can help keep the lines of communication open and avoid any damaging behaviors like stonewalling.

It can look like eye-rolling, avoiding your partner, defensive communication, or even something as simple as saying "I'm fine." when you're not fine.

Ending Of Marriages In The Indian Context


There are a number of different reasons why marriages break like biscuits in India. The reason for this is that in our society, marriages are seen as not just between two individuals but also between two families. So when a marriage fails, it is not just the couple who are affected but also their parents, grandparents, and other relatives. This can cause a lot of tension and stress within the family and can sometimes lead to members of the family being ostracized from society.


Society is slowly evolving and so is the economy. There are now more opportunities for people to find personal happiness and contentment than ever before. The effect of the four horsemen on marriages and sometimes sailing through a divorce affects the whole family in a close-knit society like ours. The effect of divorce on women in a study showed that there was a significant increase in happiness and also the younger the woman is during the divorce the less likely the divorce would affect their mental/emotional health (Sharma,2011).


So what can you do?



Dr. Gottman's research has shown that when these destructive behaviors are addressed and reduced, relationships have a much better chance of surviving and thriving. So if you're struggling with your own Four Horsemen, don't hesitate to get the help you need. It could make all the difference for you and your partner.


If you're experiencing any of these Four Horsemen in your relationship, don't despair! There is help available. With Gottman's methods, you can learn how to address these destructive behaviors and create a more fulfilling and lasting relationship.


For more information on the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse or for help with your own relationships, please contact us today! We, at Safe Space Therapy, would be happy to assist you.

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