Predicting Your Breakup, Part 2: Recognize The Four Horsemen

Love, Heartbreak

Over the past twenty-plus years, Dr. John Gottman has conducted an extensive study of long-term partnerships and married couples, seeking to understand how couples who break up and couples who create strong healthy relationships differ. Most of Gottman's early work highlighted the relationship between marital stability and how couples handle conflict.

His more recent books focus on the importance of friendship and fondness as the primary factors that predict the health of a marriage. In other words, how partners behave with each other when they are not fighting is a telling measure of how they are with each other when they do fight. And the tiny behaviors in day to day life can predict couples' longevity!

This fall I will be covering some of Dr. Gottman's predictors of divorce that have to do with how couples communicate with each other about difficult issues, in order to help you be even stronger together long-term.

Part 2: The Four Horseman of the Relationship Apocalypse
According to Gottman's research, these are the four main hostile forms of communication that put couples at high risk—especially when these patterns become a standard part of the relationship.

  1. Criticism. Blaming, faultfinding, or using global negative labels to attack your partner's character. A harsh startup often comes in the form of criticism.
  2. Contempt. A lack of respect for your partner's dignity and/or an attitude of looking down on your partner as unworthy. Contempt can include name-calling, put-downs, sarcasm, cynicism, swearing at each other, rolling of the eyes, mockery or hostile humor. Contempt is the most corrosive of the horsemen!
  3. Defensiveness. A way of blocking conversation from happening by turning perceived attacks back on your partner. Defensiveness can mean denial, refusal to take accountability, avoidance and projection. Defensiveness is uniquely destructive because it escalates tension and creates an adversarial interaction.
  4. Stonewalling. A stubborn refusal to participate in the conversation. Stonewalling often occurs as a result of continued or escalating criticism, contempt and defensiveness. It can be like talking to a "stone wall"! Stonewalling is usually seen as a containment strategy that folks use to avoid further conflict; however, avoiding conflict can also end up mean avoiding one's partner!

Your challenge:
This week, notice when the horsemen show up. When you see them, find a way to change your internal process to warmth, openness and personal accountability. Take a moment to think through your startup before you say anything. Do your best to create the best atmosphere for conversation in your tone when you start the conversation and respond to your partner.

I often recommend couples counseling for partners who feel stuck in these patterns, because it can be difficult to overcome them without professional help. Use the link below to schedule a free consultation; I would love to help you.

Read Part 1!

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If you want more help moving past resentment or judgment in your relationship, join me for the Letting Go Series this fall to let go of relationship patterns that no longer serve you!

This article was originally published at Amplify Happiness Now. Reprinted with permission from the author.