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The Four Horsemen of Apocalypse in Relationships

Today, a high percentage of marriages end up in divorce. This fact has led many to spend years trying to uncover what makes or breaks a relationship. One of these people is Dr. John Gottman, a researcher who is known for his work on marital stability and relationship analysis.  Over the course of his research, Dr. Gottman was able to learn the factors that lead to a relationship failing; in fact, he is able to predict – with 91% accuracy – which couple will end up in a divorce after listening to them argue for only five minutes.


According to Dr. Gottman, there are four negative behaviours – termed The Four Horsemen of Apocalypse – that couples sometimes engage in that can lead to a future break-up. Learning and changing these behaviours is key to a successful relationship.


Lets take a look at each of these Horsemen and learn their antidotes.



Criticism entails attacking your partner’s character or personality, often with an attempt to position one of you as right and the other wrong. Examples include, “why are you so selfish” or “you always think about yourself.”


Antidote: The antidote to criticism is complaining without blaming the other person. Instead, talk about your own feelings using ‘I statements’. As an alternative to saying “you are selfish” you can say, “I am feeling left out; can we please talk about how I am feeling.”



Defensiveness involves seeing oneself as a victim in an attempt to prevent a perceived attack. Examples include, “it’s not my fault, it’s yours” or “that’s not true, you’re the one that does not care about me.”


Antidote: The antidote to defensiveness is accepting responsibility, even for only part of the conflict. For instance, saying, “yes you’re right, I do interrupt you when you talk.”



Contempt consists of attacking another’s sense of self for the purposes of insulting or psychologically abusing him or her. Insults, name-calling, using sarcasm or rolling one’s eyes are all examples of contempt.


Antidote: The antidote to contempt involves building an environment of respect and appreciation; instead of belittling your partner by saying he or she is stupid, you can say “I am so incredibly proud of how you managed that tough situation.”



Stonewalling includes withdrawing from the relationship in order to steer away or avoid conflict. For example, giving the silent treatment, removing oneself physically, or changing the subject.


Antidote: The antidote to stonewalling includes engaging in physiological self-soothing, which entails respectfully taking a time-out period, by telling your partner that you are feeling upset and would like to take a break to allow your body to physiologically calm down.


Even the most successful relationships have conflict. It is how these conflicts are managed that determines whether or not the relationship will succeed or fail. The first step to managing these conflicts is to identify and challenge The Four Horsemen.


Farah Premji, MSc., specializes in the areas of  relationship concerns and communication, as well as many others. For more information on Farah and her work, click here to link to her full bio page.


The Four Horsemen: The antidotes. (2013). Retreived from
Gottman, J. M., & Silver, N. (1995). Why marriages succeed or fail: And how you can make yours last. Simon and Schuster.