The Gottman Institute has developed four signs that signal the end of a relationship, which they call The Four Horsemen. Here is an excerpt from their website, stating where the name came from: “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse is a metaphor depicting the end of times in the New Testament. They describe conquest, war, hunger, and death, respectively. We use this metaphor to describe communication styles that, according to our research, can predict the end of a relationship.” These are the four horsemen:

  1. Criticism
  2. Contempt
  3. Defensiveness
  4. Stonewalling

Today, Pinnacle Recovery will go through The Gottman Institute’s explanation of The Four Horsemen and explain how you can put an end to each of them. Follow along below!


There are times in every relationship where one person critiques something their partner is doing and offers advice on how to change the thing they don’t like. This is a normal, healthy part of every relationship. The first horseman, criticism, is more about “an attack on your partner at the core of their character.” Instead of voicing a complaint about a single event, criticism is attacking who your partner is. How can you stop criticism? Use “I” statements when expressing your feelings. Tell your partner what you feel and what you need. 


Everyone has bad days here and there when they lash out on their partner and can be a bit mean. As long as this is not a common thing, and you apologize afterward and try to be better, it’s not the end of the world. The second horseman, contempt, is when you truly intend to be mean. “[You] treat others with disrespect, mock them with sarcasm, ridicule, call them names, and mimic or use body language such as eye-rolling or scoffing.” The goal of contempt is to make your partner feel “despised and worthless.” Contempt also tries to show your partner that you are above them. How can you stop contempt? Remember the good qualities of your partner. Thank them for working hard to be a better person for the relationship. Try to truly be kind to each other. 


Everyone can get defensive occasionally when they feel like they are being criticized. The third horseman, defensiveness, is when you “fish for excuses and play the innocent victim so that our partner will back off.” When you manipulate the situation and your partner, this is where it gets unhealthy and dangerous. How can you stop defensiveness? Learn to take responsibility for your actions and apologize when you’ve done something wrong. 


When you are tired or fed up, you might withdraw a little bit from your current situation. The fourth horseman, stonewalling, is when you shut down and stop responding in the conversation. “Rather than confronting the issues with their partner, people who stonewall can make evasive maneuvers such as tuning out, turning away, acting busy, or engaging in obsessive or distracting behaviors.” How can you stop stonewalling? If you need a break, take a break. Do something calming that will help you recharge so that you can return to the conversation. 

Pinnacle Recovery wants to help our patients and their families. We have a trained and experienced staff that can help you get through your difficulties. Call now at 1-866-301-0573. We can’t wait to hear from you!