Gottman’s Four Horsemen Of The Apocalypse Who Can End Your Relationship

gottmans four horsemen

Gottman’s Four Horsemen refers to communication patterns that can be damaging for any relationship. Understanding and recognizing these are crucial for removing them and building a healthy, lasting relationship.

Gottman’s Four Horsemen Of The Apocalypse

Is your relationship starting to dwindle? Is your partner becoming less attached and attracted to you? Do you think this is the beginning of the end? Most of us have fears and worries about our relationship because let’s face it…none of us are perfect. We screw it up most of the time and sometimes love just isn’t enough to fix things up. However, by identifying the core issues in our relationship, we can still have a fighting chance to save it. We can still salvage it and build a better and stronger relationship. And this is where the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse come in.

Gottman's Four Horsemen Of The Apocalypse Who Can End Your Relationship
Gottman's Four Horsemen Of The Apocalypse Who Can End Your Relationship

Psychological researcher Dr. John Gottman observed and identified four specific negative communication and behavior patterns among romantic partners which can adversely affect their relationship and eventually lead to dissolution. He named them “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” that can destroy any relationship. This theory on relational communications highlights how negative verbal and nonverbal communication can impact your relationship and lead to a breakup or divorce. The model refers to the biblical Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and uses them metaphorically to focus on four distinct behaviors that cause a communication breakdown in relationships. Gottman’s Four Horsemen include the following patterns of communication in any romantic relationship:

  • Criticism
  • Contempt
  • Defensiveness
  • Stonewalling

According to a 2019 study, “the four horsemen of the apocalypse – criticism, defensiveness, contempt, and stonewalling — are the behaviors that are the most destructive to relationships, especially as indicated by subsequent divorce.” The model covers different forms of attack, such as criticism & contempt, defensiveness & stonewalling. {1}

Read: Lack of Communication in a Relationship Sometimes Lead to Divorce according to Studies

The Cascade Model Of Relational Dissolution

Gottman’s Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse is also known as the cascade model of relational dissolution. Along with his research associate Robert W. Levenson, Gottman observed that these negative communication patterns can propel a relationship towards eventual dissolution. However, he believed that this process can be anticipated and prevented by recognizing negative interactions among couples. The model is a metaphor inspired by the New Testament which is modified to explain different communication styles that can predict relationship dissolution.

Gottman found that these four behaviors were the most destructive & were the strongest predictors of breakups, separation, or divorce. Although these negative patterns can be found in almost all relationships to some degree, toxic relationships are pregnant with such communication patterns, while healthy relationships not only avoid these but focus more on building the bond. Research has found that Gottman’s model is not only applicable for married couples, it can also be effectively applied for teen dating violence (TDV) and relationship aggression among college students. The researchers found that “the four horsemen (i.e., a cascading and negative communication sequence) were associated with higher likelihood of multiple types of TDV.” {2} If you think your relationship is getting riddled with these patterns of communication, then take a step back, observe your relationship and your behavior and gain a deeper understanding of Gottman’s model.

Read: The Type Of Communication Which May Be Hurting Your Relationship

Understanding Gottman’s Four Horsemen

If you are keen on learning about Gottman’s Four Horsemen to prevent the end of your romantic relationship and strengthen your emotional connection with your partner or spouse, then understanding this model is crucial. 

Let us take a closer look at the four aspects of negative communication in relationships:

1. Criticism

horseman criticism
Gottman's Four Horsemen Of The Apocalypse Who Can End Your Relationship

Criticism is one of the most common negative behaviors observed in relationships. This negative communication pattern can often stem from our own disappointments, insecurities and anger which we pass on to our partner by highlighting their mistakes, faults and limitations. It is a destructive psychological habit that attacks the other person’s character and personality, instead of simply focusing on the particular behavior that is unacceptable for the individual. Disagreements are a natural part of relationships, but there is a difference between criticizing them and complaining about their behavior. “Criticism is an attack on a partner’s character and is differentiated from mere complaints about behavior,” explains the 2019 study.

Gottman's Four Horsemen Of The Apocalypse Who Can End Your Relationship
Gottman's Four Horsemen Of The Apocalypse Who Can End Your Relationship

For instance, complaining may sound like “I am disappointed you didn’t buy the groceries even after saying you would.” However, criticism may be more harsh and aggressive, such as “I knew you wouldn’t buy the groceries because you are irresponsible and useless.” Criticism is verbally and emotionally attacking your partner which can affect their self-identity and self-esteem. This can be a highly toxic behavior as it can affect the victim’s psychological and emotional state leading to feelings of being rejected, assaulted, abused, and hurt. It can even lead to a pattern of criticism in the relationship where such negative behavior is repeated with higher intensity and frequency. One 2017 study found that criticism from a partner in romantic relationships can lead to social anxiety and sadness, especially among women. {3}

Read: 6 Ways To Protect Yourself From Destructive Criticism

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Theo Harrison

Hey there! I am just someone trying to find my way through life. I am a reader, writer, traveler, fighter, philosopher, artist and all around nice guy. I am outdoor person but heavily into technology, science, psychology, spiritualism, Buddhism, martial arts and horror films. I believe in positive action more than positive thinking.View Author posts