4 Communication Styles that End Relationships : Kate Murphy Therapy
Description of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling.
Couples Therapy, Gottman Method Couples Therapy, Atlanta GA, Norcross GA, connection, communication, the four horseman of the apocalypse, conflict, criticism, contempt, defensiveness, stonewalling
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4 Communication Styles that End Relationships

4 Communication Styles that End Relationships

I returned from a training workshop in Denver, CO on Gottman Method Couple Therapy (level 2). The workshop was a great learning experience in a beautiful setting. A bonus of the location was that I got to visit my best friend from high school which was very restorative. Connection is important in all its many forms.

Gottman Method Couple Therapy

John Gottman’s research is based on observing what is different about the behavior of couples who are successful. Meaning those that stayed together and thrived vs. those that ended up dissatisfied or separated. I appreciate the approach of looking at a problem by focusing on what is working rather than focusing on what is broken.

This blog will focus on The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. I’m focusing on the Four Horsemen because this is often where the big “Aha!” moment happens for couples I see in counseling.

The moment when couples who are having a lot of trouble connecting and communicating can see their issue clearly and even begin to take personal ownership of their contribution to negative patterns.

Gottman and his team observed that not all negative behaviors had the same impact. Four stood out as being the most destructive and biggest predictors of divorce and separation; hence the Four Horsemen. The behaviors are Criticism, Defensiveness, Contempt and Stonewalling.

Most relationships will have some of these behaviors, but healthy relationships don’t use them as much.  Additionally, healthy couples do more to repair the relationship when the behaviors are used.

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

1. Criticism

Attacking your partner’s personality or character as opposed to making a statement about a situation that doesn’t please you.  Example, “You never empty the dishwasher!”
  • “you always…”
  • “you never…”
  • “you’re the type of person who…”
  • “why are you so …”
Antidote:  Gentle Start-Up 

Example, “Honey, the dishwasher isn’t emptied. I thought you were doing that tonight.” 

2. Defensiveness

Seeing self as the victim by warding off a perceived attack from partner. Think of a lawyer preparing the defense in their mind without listening to the point of the other side. The only goal here is to win. (Hint-Hint: When someone wins in marriage, you both lose)
  • Making excuses (e.g., external circumstances beyond your control forced you to act in a certain way).
  • Saying things like: “It’s not my fault…” or “I didn’t…” or “It’s not fair…”
  • Meeting your partner’s complaint or criticism with a complaint of your own that is not related to their complaint.
  • Repeating yourself without regard to what your partner is saying.
Antidote:  Take Responsibility for Your Behavior

3. Contempt

Attacking your partner’s sense of self; verbal abuse. This is the most dangerous communication style to enter into your relationship. This behavior says, “I just don’t like or respect you.” Think of a 13-year-old at their most disdainful eye roll moment.
  • Calling names like wimp, stupid, slob, fat, or names that involve profanity.
  • Using sarcasm or mockery.
  • Sneering, rolling your eyes, or showing a snarl.
Antidote:  Build Culture of Appreciation

Remind yourself of partner’s positive qualities and look for those more carefully instead of all the things you have grown to disdain.

4. Stonewalling

Stonewalling is withdrawing from the relationship as a way to avoid conflict. Avoidance may be physical, emotional or both. Partners may think they are trying to be “neutral” but stonewalling conveys disapproval, icy distance, separation, and disconnection. It is very confusing for the partner that is being stonewalled.
  • Monosyllabic answers or shrugging to questions.
  • Changing the subject.
  • Removing yourself physically to another room or leaving the house.
  • Silent treatment.
Antidote:  Learn to Self-Soothe, to take a Break from the fighting to calm down. 

*Always tell your partner that you are coming back in 20 minutes to an hour.



The good news is that once you recognize that Criticism, Defensiveness, Contempt, and Stonewalling have entered into your relationship, you can begin to work together to change your communication patterns. Or perhaps you feel like you need more support. In that case, you two may want to see a Gottman influenced couples therapist. I would be happy to help! Call or email me to set up a consultation to discuss therapy.

For more information visit The Gottman Institute:  https://www.gottman.com/



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