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Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse in Marriage


PC: JD Mason

In college I was a communication major that exclusively studied familial and relational communication. I studied relationship types, communication strategies, conflict styles, and much more. I studied countless failed marriages over the years and conducted multiple research studies to further learn about conflict styles and how they relate to relational satisfaction. Here's what I learned. Most relationships ended due to communication breakdown and unresolved conflicts (the four horsemen of the apocalypse- i'll elaboration on this later). In this article, I'll explain the MEGA IMPORTANT 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse, the first steps towards recognizing and avoiding these horsemen, the Gottman Method (developed by world renowned psychologist John Gottman), and practical tips for improving communication and resolving conflicts.

According to Gottman, love is a verb, not just a noun. It requires effort, attention, and intention.

As mentioned earlier, John Gottman is a leading expert on marriage and relationships. According to him, marriage is a friendship that is enhanced by physical intimacy and commitment. A happy marriage is one that is built on a foundation of friendship, mutual respect, and shared values. Love, on the other hand, is not just a feeling but a skill that can be learned and developed over time.


What is the "Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse" in Marriage?


The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are negative communication patterns that can predict divorce with over 90% accuracy. These patterns are criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling. They are called the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse because they can be so destructive to a marriage that they can feel like the end of the world. However, recognizing and avoiding these patterns can help to prevent relationship breakdown and promote a happy and healthy marriage.


The First Horseman: Criticism

Criticism is the first horseman of the Apocalypse. It involves attacking your partner's character or personality instead of addressing a specific behavior. For example, saying "You're so lazy" instead of "I'm frustrated that you didn't clean up after yourself". Criticism can be extremely damaging to a relationship because it can make your partner feel attacked and defensive. It can also erode the foundation of friendship and mutual respect that is essential to a happy marriage.

To avoid criticism, it is important to focus on specific behaviors instead of attacking your partner's character.


Use "I" statements instead of "you" statements to express your feelings and needs. For example, "I feel frustrated when the house is messy" instead of "You never clean up after yourself". It is also important to avoid using absolutes such as "always" or "never", as they can be overly critical and inaccurate.


The Second Horseman: Contempt

Contempt is the second horseman of the Apocalypse. It involves attacking your partner's sense of self-worth and superiority. For example, rolling your eyes, mocking, or being sarcastic. Contempt is the most destructive of the Four Horsemen because it conveys disgust and disrespect for your partner. It can erode the foundation of friendship and mutual respect that is essential to a happy marriage.


To avoid contempt, it is important to practice empathy and respect for your partner. Recognize that your partner's feelings and needs are just as valid as your own. Avoid sarcasm or negative body language, and instead focus on positive interactions and expressions of appreciation.

It is also important to avoid criticism or insults, as they can escalate conflict and damage the relationship further.


The Third Horseman: Defensiveness

Defensiveness is the third horseman of the Apocalypse. It involves denying responsibility or blaming your partner for the issue at hand. For example, saying "It's not my fault, you're the one who forgot" instead of taking responsibility for your actions. Defensiveness can be damaging to a relationship because it can make it difficult to resolve conflicts and find solutions.


To avoid defensiveness, it is important to take responsibility for your actions and focus on finding solutions instead of blaming your partner. Again, use "I" statements instead of "you" statements and avoid using triggering language like "always" and "never". Example "you never remember to xyz" or "you always ignore me when I ask you to do something".


It is also important to listen actively to your partner's perspective and avoid interrupting or dismissing their feelings.

The Fourth Horseman: Stonewalling

Stonewalling is the fourth horseman of the Apocalypse. It involves withdrawing from the interaction and shutting down emotionally. For example, giving your partner the silent treatment or walking away during an argument. Stonewalling can be damaging to a relationship because it can make it difficult to resolve conflicts and find solutions when you are quite literally shutting down or leaving the communication.


Remember, it is not you against your partner, but it is you and your partner against the problem.

To avoid stonewalling, it is important to practice self-soothing and take breaks when needed. Recognize when you are feeling overwhelmed or flooded, and take a break to calm down before continuing the conversation. It is also important to communicate your needs to your partner and work together to find a solution.


How to recognize and avoid the Four Horsemen in your Relationship

Recognizing and avoiding the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse can be challenging, but it is essential to a happy and healthy marriage. Here are some tips for recognizing and avoiding the Four Horsemen:

  • Pay attention to your communication patterns and interactions with your partner. Are you using any of the Four Horsemen? If so, try to identify what triggers them and work on finding alternative responses.

  • Practice active listening and empathy. Try to understand your partner's perspective and validate their feelings and needs.

  • Use "I" statements instead of "you" statements to express your feelings and needs. For example, "I feel frustrated when…" instead of "You always…"

  • Avoid criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling. Instead, focus on positive interactions and expressions of appreciation.

  • Take breaks when needed and practice self-soothing. Recognize when you are feeling overwhelmed or flooded, and take a break to calm down before continuing the conversation.

What is the Gottman Method?

The Gottman Method is a research-based approach to couples therapy that aims to strengthen relationships and prevent divorce. According to Gottman, there are seven principles that are essential to a happy marriage. These principles are: enhancing love maps, nurturing fondness and admiration, turning towards each other instead of away, accepting influence, solving solvable problems, overcoming gridlock, and creating shared meaning. 10/10 recommend researching this. We will have a blog on them later though.

Practical tips for improving communication and resolving conflict

Improving communication and resolving conflict can be challenging, but it is essential to a happy and healthy marriage. Here are some practical tips for improving communication and resolving conflict:

  • Practice active listening and empathy. Try to understand your partner's perspective and validate their feelings and needs.

  • Use "I" statements instead of "you" statements to express your feelings and needs. For example, "I feel frustrated when…" instead of "You always…"

  • Practice positive interactions and expressions of appreciation. Focus on what your partner does well and express your gratitude and appreciation.

  • Take breaks when needed and practice self-soothing. Recognize when you are feeling overwhelmed or flooded, and take a break to calm down before continuing the conversation.

  • Seek professional help if needed. Sometimes, resolving conflict and improving communication requires the help of a trained professional.

In conclusion, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse can be destructive to a marriage, but recognizing and avoiding them can help to prevent relationship breakdown and promote a happy and healthy marriage. By practicing positive communication patterns, active listening, empathy, and appreciation, you can strengthen your relationship and build a foundation of friendship, mutual respect, and shared values.


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