The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and Avoiding Them in a Relationship

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and Avoiding Them in a Relationship

By Gina Cipriano


Drs. John and Julie Gottman are founders of the Gottman Institute, which has contributed extensive research to the field of couples counseling. The four horsemen of the apocalypse are what they found to be the most predictive behaviors that occur within a couple that lead to divorce.


Here is an overview of each of these and how to avoid them:


Contempt: Eye-roll, name-calling, mocking, sarcasm, oh-my! It may be obvious that this is the most evident and highly predictive factor that divorce will occur. However, once partners get into a negative pattern of communicating it is not easy to simply stop. To start avoiding contempt, it is important for a person to focus on the positive qualities of their partner. It entails not only stopping contemptuous behavior but also ensuring that partners are validating, admiring, and being affectionate towards each other to break the negative cycle of behaviors.


Defensiveness: “I did that? Impossible. Who me!?! Never? Well, I would not have done that if you would have done this.” Sound familiar? It can be easy to become defensive to try protecting yourself. In order to avoid this, a person can take responsibility for their actions and ask open-ended questions in attempt to understand what their partner desires. This allows partners to feel heard and validated.


Criticism: Criticism occurs when someone attacks their partner’s character rather than a specific behavior they are doing. It often starts with phrases such as “You always…” or “You never…”. To avoid this, it is important to shift from blaming a partner to asking them what you need by using a gentle start up. This can happen by simply asking, “Could you please…” or “I would appreciate it if you could…”.


Stonewalling: Our bodies are quite incredible. They protect us from foreseeable harm by activating fight or flight mode. However, this can cause our systems to become overloaded and result in freezing. In arguments, it is possible to become so overwhelmed with emotion that a partner needs to turn away from the conversation. They do so by directing their gaze elsewhere and appearing to mentally “check out” of the conversation. If this happens, it is vital to take a break! The partner experiencing stonewalling can tell their partner that they need thirty minutes to themselves. Then, they can go back to the conversation. If more than 30 minutes is needed to calm down, it is important to come back to your partner at the 30-minute mark and let them know that you still need some more time.




Brown, B., 2022. Brene with Drs. John and Julie Gottman on What Makes Love Last. Unlocking Us with Brene Brown.


The Gottman Institute. 2022. The Gottman Institute | A research-based approach to relationships. [online] Available at: <https://www.gottman.com/> [Accessed 12 January 2022].


A therapist can help couples understand how the four horsemen affect their marriage or relationship and how to find different ways to communicate their needs to their partners.  Juno Counseling and Wellness provides couples therapy in Palm Beach Gardens, Jupiter, North Palm Beach and the greater Palm Beach County area.

Leave comments

Your email is safe with us.