Four Horsemen
By: Kandice
November 3, 2022

In the Gottman Theory, John and Julie Gottman use an analogy to describe when a marriage could be on the brink of destruction called the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: Criticism, Contempt, Defensiveness, and Stonewalling.  This analogy comes from the Christian Bible in the New Testament depicting the end of times. John and Julie Gottman have identified these behaviors to be detrimental to a marriage.

In relationships you are bound to have conflict with you partner.  Most times they may be seen as minor disagreements and each one of you are okay afterwards.  This is not always the case though.  There are times where you feel that your conflict comes out of nowhere.  You may feel insulted, or are blatantly insulted about your competency to do something.  This would cause you to either react or respond. Learning how to recognize the Four Horsemen may be able to help you turn things around or prevent a lot of damage in advance.  Here is a description of the Four Horsemen. . . .


Criticism is pointing out a problem with someone’s character or personality. Oxford Dictionary defines it as being “the expression of disapproval of someone or something based on perceived faults or mistakes.” Let me give you an example.

Example: “You are always doing this. What’s wrong with you?”



Defensiveness is an attempt to defend oneself from an attack.  Oxford dictionary defines it as “behavior intended to defend or protect.” Being defensive typically is one not taking responsibility for their part. Here is an example.

Example: “You know that makes me mad. This is your fault not mine.”


Contempt is any statement or nonverbal behavior that puts oneself above the other.  Oxford dictionary defines it as being “the feeling that a person or a thing is beneath consideration, worthless, or deserving scorn.” This is also feelings of disdain, disrespect and name calling. John Gottman identifies this to be the most corrosive to a marriage. Here is an example.

Example: One partner acting superior to the other or mocking them.  


Stonewalling is when a listener withdrawals from the conversation. John Gottman defines it as “emotionally withdrawing, shutting down, or going silent during important conversations.” Stonewalling can be used when someone feels that they are not able to say the right thing. This is also a way to avoid issues so the other person will stop being mad at them. An example of this behavior would be:

Example: Looking away and not responding. They appear to be stiff or aloof.

Generally, in communication, many people listen to respond as opposed to listen to hear the other’s side.  Criticism tends to naturally lead others being defensive, ending in a lack of engagement or arguments. All four of these behaviors can lead into the other and become a vicious cycle that never ends.  There is hope! When identifying which of the following you fall under the most I hope that you will not get bogged down on your shortcomings. Its not about what you do wrong but what you will do to change. There are specific things you can do to combat these actions.

  1. Start the conversation in a calm and gentle way.
  2. Take responsibility for your actions and words.
  3. Show respect and admiration to your partner
  4. Calm yourself when feeling heightened.

Changing your behavior from using the Four Horsemen does appear to be easier said than done.  It will take practice and patience with yourself and your partner.  In addition, if you are struggling to find out how start please reach out to a professional that help guide you through making changes that can transform your relationship.


*Why Marriages Succeed Or Fail: The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Gottman, John