Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse


1.      Criticism:

Attacking your partner’s personality or character, usually with the intent of making someone right and someone wrong:

Generalizations: “you always…” “you never…”“you’re the type of person who …” “why are you so …”

2.   Contempt:

Attacking your partner’s sense of self with the intention to insult or psychologically abuse him/her:

  • Insults and name-calling: “bitch, bastard, wimp, fat, stupid, ugly, slob, lazy…”
  • Hostile humor, sarcasm or mockery
  • Body language & tone of voice: sneering, rolling your eyes, curling your upper lip

3.      Defensiveness:

Seeing self as the victim, warding off a perceived attack:

  • Making excuses (e.g., external circumstances beyond your control forced you to act in a certain way) “It’s not my fault…”, “I didn’t…”
  • Cross-complaining: meeting your partner’s complaint, or criticism with a complaint of your own, ignoring what your partner said


  • Disagreeing and then cross-complaining “That’s not true, you’re the one who …” “I did this because you did that…”
  • Yes-butting: start off agreeing but end up disagreeing
  • Repeating yourself without paying attention to what the other person is saying
  • Whining “It’s not”

4.      Stonewalling:

Withdrawing from the relationship as a way to avoid conflict. Partners may think they are trying to be “neutral” but stonewalling conveys disapproval, icy distance, separation, disconnection, and/or smugness:

  • Stony silence
  • Monosyllabic mutterings
  • Changing the subject
  • Removing yourself physically
  • Silent Treatment


  • Learn to make specific complaints & requests (when X happened, I felt Y, I want Z)
  • Conscious communication: Speaking the unarguable truth & listening generously
  • Validate your partner (let your partner know what makes sense to you about what they are saying; let them know you understand what they are feeling, see through their eyes)
  • Shift to appreciation (5 times as much positive feeling & interaction as negative)
  • Claim responsibility: “What can I learn from this?” & “What can I do about it?”
  • Re-write your inner script (replace thoughts of righteous indignation or innocent victimization with thoughts of appreciation, responsibility that are soothing & validating)
  • Practice getting undefended (allowing your partner’s utterances to be what they really are: just thoughts and puffs of air) and let go of the stories that you are making up

© Bob & Marlene Neufeld and Mary Ann Carmichael, 2005; based on Gottman, John. 1994. Why Marriages Succeed or Fail

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