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The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

Jacqueline Hellyer - Sunday, October 15, 2017



We’ve discussed the importance of sharing before you move into solution mode. How you do this is equally as important.

John Gottman, has also identified four negative ways of communicating, which he calls the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse”. These might not seem as drastic as the originals from the Bible: war, pestilence, famine and plague, but these lesser horsemen can reek just as much damage on a relationship as the big ones do on a whole society.

The Four Horsemen are:
  • Criticism
  • Contempt
  • Aggression
  • Stonewalling

If these little devils are firmly entrenched in your relationship then you haven’t got a hope of having a positive one, let alone a mature one.

How often do I hear people say: “I’m not being critical; I’m being honest!” “I’m not being aggressive; I’m just getting my point across!” “I’m only being funny; not contemptuous” “I’m not stonewalling; I'm just keeping the peace…”

Criticism is not ‘helpful’ or ‘being honest’, it is judgemental and disrespectful and makes your partner defensive and/or reduces their self-confidence.

Sarcasm is contempt; it is not humour. Contempt of any kind is hurtful. Eye rolling is infuriating and has never ever induced someone to be more open and loving.

If your partner feels you are being aggressive, you are being aggressive. It will cause them to respond with more aggression, or to submit to the aggressor’s point of view or run away from the discussion out of fear.

Stonewalling or withdrawing prevents any chance of positive movement. In some ways it’s the worst of the lot as at least with the others you’ve got something to work with. With stonewalling you have nothing to work with and everything hangs in limbo until the stonewaller decides to come to the party and share their feelings and thoughts - assuming they ever do, some couples live in stonewalled distance for years or decades, for many couples this is “normality”.

These four horsemen can appear in the smallest of ways and can become insidious in a relationship, until they appear normal. If your family of origin used these forms of communication, they’ll seem even more normal to you:

  • If there was a lot of aggression in your family as a child, you might feel that a level of aggression is normal and acceptable; you might not even consider it aggressive.

 

  • If you came from a family where sarcasm was considered witty, you’ll probably carry that forward into future relationships.

 

  • If there was constant criticism coming from one or both of your parents, or criticism between them, you might unconsciously be harsh and critical to your partner, without even realising it.

 

  • And if you came from a family where people deliberately withheld their feelings, then you’re likely to grow up feeling that it’s perfectly acceptable not to engage in important conversations.


Communication is such an important part of relationships that it’s vital you analyse your communication style, as an individual and as a couple, and work to improve it. Removing the four horsemen is an important part of this.

It’s absolutely vital if you want to have a good sex life, so that you can freely and safely express whatever you need to and move forward creatively and cooperatively.



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