The Couples Clinic

The Four Horsemen

The presence of the Four Horsemen is a sign of the apocalypse, as suggested by the New Testament. The research undertaken by Gottman found four predictors of relationship apocalypse. Gottman was successfully able to predict, with an over 80% success rate, whether a couple will separate after witnessing a few minutes of their interaction. The Four Horsemen’s presence was the information he was looking for. If the following four attributes are present in a relationship, it is a sure path to emotional disconnection and eventual separation.

The Four Horsemen are:

Criticism

Criticism in relationships is very common. This is because it is virtually impossible to be in a relationship without having any complaints about the other person. However, couples who express complaints, rather than criticism, are not harming their relationship. Learning to use gentle start-ups when expressing complaints is essential to minimising criticism.

Contempt

Having contempt is to place your partner as an inferior person or someone with low value. You demonstrate a sense of superiority or supremacy over your partner, which does not allow for respect and fondness to be present. Contempt, and similarly belligerence, comes from long-held negative views about your partner: what they do, the decisions they make, how they behave in social situations, their food choices, and on and on and on. Rigid negative sentiment is the breeding ground of contempt. Its presence is the strongest predictor of a relationship ending.

Defensiveness

Becoming defensive very rarely de-escalates conflict. It more commonly escalates tension and leads a couple to utilise more criticism. It can be used as a way of blaming the other person, or even minimising own contribution and taking on a victim role. Defensiveness is often referred to as a form of self-preservation, to fend off an attack. This in of itself is not helpful for a functional relationship, however defensiveness is often present when the attack is only perceived, not real, which is extremely detrimental to a relationship.

Stonewalling

Stonewalling is exactly what it sounds like. Tuning out and placing a big stonewall between you and your partner. This is often done in response to contempt or criticism and is another form of self-preservation. However, the damage it does to a relationship can be severe. Repeated stonewalling can lead to emotional distancing. Stonewalling can come in many forms. Whilst both men and women stonewall, it has found to be more common in males.