Think about any new skill, sport or job you’ve ever wanted to learn. It takes practice! Your relationships are one big practice field. You’re constantly practicing the art of keeping your relationship healthy and happy. According to Dr. John Gottman, couples’ guru, and his 40 years of research there are Four Horsemen that can predict the end of a relationship. Which means, we need to learn and know them, to avoid them.

What are the Four Horsemen? Criticism, Defensiveness, Contempt & Stonewalling

Criticism: Think of the words “You always” & “you never”. These are common ways to criticize. We are basically implying that there is something wrong with our partner, rather than between you two. This leads to your partner feeling under attack and replying with defensiveness.

Defensiveness: When you attempt to defend yourself from a perceived attack with a counter complaint. Defensiveness comes out when we feel accused unjustly- we seek out excuses so that our partner will back off. It can quickly become a blame game. Neither partner taking responsibility.

Contempt: Any statement or nonverbal behavior that makes you appear better than your partner. When we communicate in this state we are being truly mean. Treating others with disrespect, ridicule, name-calling, mocking, rolling your eyes, mimicking. Contempt is fueled by long-simmering negative thoughts about your partner. It’s used to make someone feel despised and worthless. Making it one of the most serious horsemen, as it destroys fondness and admiration.

Stonewalling: When the listener withdraws from the conversation. It’s when one person shuts down, closes himself/herself off from the other or physically leaves to stop the conversation. The Stonewaller may be trying to calm themselves, gather their thoughts. The problem is it can lead to their partner feeling that they don’t care about the problem.

Now that you know what The Four Horsemen are, it’s time to start noticing them in your relationships. How do you use them, what’s being triggered and what’s their effect on others? Next week, I’ll introduce you to how to replace them with healthy, productive communication tools.

For now, practice, practice practice!