The Gottman Method is a form of relationship therapy that was created by Doctors John and Julie Gottman, a couple focused on relationship therapy and wellness. It’s a therapeutic approach to relationship therapy that focuses on three aspects of romantic relationships: friendship, conflict management, and creating shared meaning.
The Gottman Method also identifies the Four Horsemen that can ruin any relationship, based on the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling.
While all of these are things that have the potential to end a relationship, they aren’t necessarily the nail in the coffin. If you and your partner are able to identify these unhealthy communication patterns and change your communication style, then you can prevent the four horsemen from causing the apocalypse of your relationship.
Here’s a closer look at each of The Gottman Method’s four horsemen and how to avoid them :
This isn’t just voicing a complaint or critique. When you criticize your partner, it’s an attack on their character. For example, if you’re upset your partner didn’t call you back, you might tell them how selfish they are or accuse them of not caring about you.
Instead of criticizing your partner, it is helpful to focus on using “I” statements (“I was worried when you didn’t call me back”), which makes the complaint less about your partner and more about you and your needs. This can help change the tone of a conversation and avoid blaming a partner, which is not productive.
Contempt is usually the result of constant criticism. When you feel contempt for your partner, the level of mean escalates—mocking them with sarcasm, showing disrespect, calling them names, rolling your eyes, scoffing—anything to make them feel worthless. According to Gottman’s research, contempt is the single greatest predictor of divorce.
The key to avoiding it? Mutual appreciation and respect for one another. Without it, you’ll often resort to name-calling or hostile behavior.
Defensiveness involves playing the victim or making excuses when being criticized. Unfortunately, all it does is make it seem like you won’t take responsibility for your actions or mistakes. At its core, defensiveness is a way of shifting blame to your partner, which is incredibly unhealthy for your relationship.
The best way to avoid defensiveness is to accept responsibility for your actions. While you don’t have to throw yourself under the bus or put the whole situation on you, it’s important to recognize that your actions matter. Rather than shifting blame, take time to think about how your behavior affected the situation.
Usually, a response to contempt, stonewalling describes someone who totally shuts down and stops responding to their partner. They turn away, act busy, or simply ignore them, rather than addressing the issue. There’s no possibility of a rational discussion if one partner is in a stonewalling state.
If you find that stonewalling is an issue, it’s important to take some time away from the conflict in order to cool off and collect your feelings. A good rule of thumb is to take twenty minutes away from the conflict so that you can get into a more neutral headspace, then come back to the conflict and hash things out. If you take space from the conflict, it’s super important to return to the conflict so that things become resolved.
If your relationship is falling victim to the four horsemen, fear not—there are still ways to turn things around. Whether you work through it yourselves or with the help of a therapist, making the effort to acknowledge and address your issues is the first step toward a happier, healthier relationship.