The bane of today’s couples: The four horsemen!

I’ve heard you mention the 4 Horsemen that rear their ugly heads for couples. Tell me a little bit about that?

That is coined by the Gottman’s and the Gottman’s are therapists who have been studying couples for over 30 years in what they call their “Love Lab.” I’ve done some training in Gottman and basically the 4 Horsemen are ways that couple communicate. Like you said they rear their ugly head in discussions between couples. It’s actually one of the biggest predictors of divorce. The 4 Horsemen are defensiveness, criticism, contempt and stonewalling. Defensiveness is defensiveness, the way that I put it is an inability to accept what the other person is saying for what it is. One person says something and the other person takes it as a personal attack and feels like they have to defend themselves.

Criticism is finding weaknesses in your partner or faults in your partner and really bringing them into light, especially during a discussion or an argument. It could be subtle, it could just be something as simple as, “Are you really going to wear those shoes or are you really going to wear your hair like that?” Where it’s really subtle, but enough of those throughout a relationship and it really tears you down. Contempt is being contemptuous, not very nice. Stonewalling, which I think is the biggest predictor of divorce because when couples get to that it’s going to take a lot of effort to repair. Stonewalling basically they shut down. One person starts wanting to connect, wanting to talk about something. The partner pretty much ignores the situation.

Once it gets to that, like I said the repair is really more challenging because the partner has to, number one accept that they’re doing that. Number 2 have the willingness and motivation to repair it and to catch themselves when they’re doing it. With these 4 Horsemen, when the couples are communicating, they have to be aware of when they’re doing this. Then there’s ways of repairing it. Instead of criticizing they’re going to talk about what it is that’s making them uncomfortable. Instead of doing a personal attack on the partner. Instead of stonewalling they’re going to engage. These are just definitely some of the things I see in couples communication that’s really a big predictor of where their relationship is.


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