Can you imagine if there was a way for you to know if you were heading towards a breakup with your partner? Luckily, for anyone who might have hit a rough patch in their relationship, four distinct behaviors – known as the “four horsemen” – indicate the end may be near, and catching them early enough can give you and your partner a chance to shift the relationship.
The four horsemen are a concept that Dr. John Gottman has researched. It is a metaphor that depicts the end of times in the Book of Revelations and refers to communication styles that can be initial indicators of divorce or breakups on the horizon. The four horsemen of a relationship are criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling. Here is a breakdown of each of the behaviors and how you can counteract them according to experts:
The first horseman is criticism and is when you verbally attack your partner’s character. Criticism is different from complaining or offering critique. You criticize your partner when you go after their characteristics as an individual, which can be calling them selfish when they forget to tell you they’ll be home late. The way to combat this is by focusing on the issue and how it made you feel instead of the person. You can do this by using “I” statements that describe how your partner’s behavior made you feel.
When criticism becomes pervasive, this can lead to the second horseman which is contempt. According to Dr. Gottman, contempt is a step beyond criticism and occurs when you intend to “insult and psychologically abuse” your partner. Contempt can be mocking them with sarcasm, ridiculing them, calling them names, or using disrespectful body language like eye-rolling or scoffing. Building a culture of appreciation can be an antidote to this. You can do this by reminding yourself of the reasons you fell in love in the first place.
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