Will My Relationship Last? The Four Horsemen Can Tell

Most people in relationships find themselves anxiously wondering at some point “will this relationship last?” An easy and evidence-based way to answer this question starts with observing the way in which you and your partner communicate.

The psychological theory that predicts which relationships are more likely to end is called The Four Horsemen. This theory comes from Dr. John Gottman, a world-famous psychologist known for 50 years of research focusing on couples and marriage. He found four types of communication that, when active, predict the end of a relationship. Just like the biblical four horsemen of the apocalypse- Death, Famine, War, and Conquest, the psychological theory describes the four communication styles that predict the end of a relationship. The Four Horsemen of relationships are: Criticism, Defensiveness, Stonewalling, and Contempt.

Read through the following descriptions and examples of the Four Horsemen to better understand the survival of your own relationship.

Criticism: Excessively attacking your partner’s character.

The first of the horsemen consists of criticizing your partner in a way that reduces who they are in a manner that is pervasive, unhelpful, and attacking. Constantly criticizing your partner can lead to contempt and resentment towards your partner, making the relationship more likely to end.

Some criticism examples:

“You’re so selfish! All you do is think about yourself, your video games, and your stupid friends.”

“You never know when to shut up and you turn everything into an argument.”

Criticisms are different from complaints. Here is an example of a complaint: “I wish you’d spend more time with me. Sometimes I feel like I’m not as important to you as your games or your friends, and I’d like that to change.” The important thing to note when speaking to your partner is to avoid speaking in a way in which you are attacking them, instead tell them your opinion in a non-attacking and helpful way.

Defensiveness: Being overly focused on self-protection, which can lead to victimization.

People are bound to have defensive moments in conversations with their partner at times. It’s important to make sure when responding to a criticism that you aren’t jumping to conclusions and victimizing yourself. When you are overly defensive towards your partner, it reinforces the idea that you’re not willing to take responsibility for your mistakes.

An example of defensiveness:

“Of course, I didn’t have time to get groceries! I’m busy working and taking care of everything so you can just sit there and enjoy yourself. You know what- you should’ve just bought the groceries!”

Contempt: Being snide to your partner.

The horseman of contempt is seen when you are actively hurting your partner and treating them as if they are inferior to you. Examples include mimicking your partner, being sarcastic, ridiculing, name-calling, and mocking your partner. Contempt is truly being mean to your partner and acting in a childish way to make you seem superior to them.

Stonewalling: “Cold shouldering” the other.

This horseman is a refusal to communicate or cooperate with your partner and is usually passive aggressive. Stonewalling does not solve anything and rather attempts to push problems away instead of effectively talking things out. Instead of giving your partner the silent treatment, it’s important to give each other some time, maybe 20 minutes, to cool down and then return to the conversation in a calm state.

In conclusion, to make sure your relationship will last, note the communication styles used between you and your partner. Make sure you are speaking in a way that is effective, non-attacking, and respectful. If you see one of the four horsemen sticking its head into your communication styles, address it and correct it, because if it continues, your relationship, according to Dr. Gottman, is likely to end. 

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