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The Four Horsemen of Relationships

Updated: Jul 19, 2023

If you’ve ever tried to research couples counseling, communication techniques, or searched for relationship advice, chances are you’ve come across a man called John Gottman. Recently I listened to a podcast by Dax Shepard (yes, that Dax Shepard) who interviewed Gottman for his work and advice on couples. It’s over 2 hours of dialogue, but every minute is worth it. I highly recommend listening to this podcast if you are in a relationship, will be in a relationship, or want a relationship (and this includes family, friends, and love).

Here’s a brief overview:

1. Criticism: different than a critique, criticizing your partner is an attack on who your partner is as a person. This directly hits on character, who they are at their core, their being.

Ex: “You’re a selfish person because you always do whatever you want to do and you never think of me!”

A Complaint is different. A complaint looks at event to how you felt.

Ex: “I was upset when you said I sound like my mother because I told you it hurt my feelings and you said it anyway. It made me feel like you weren’t listening.

2. Contempt: treating your partner with disrespect, sarcasm, name-calling, negative body language. This can look like mockery, rolling your eyes, or language meant to discredit the other person, to make them feel bad.

3. Defensiveness: playing the victim, proving our stance to our partner, justifying your actions, so that the other person will back off. Comes across as actually blaming your partner.

Ex: “I thought you said you would put the dishes away after work.”“I had too much to do today. I have to work. Why don’t you put them away since you don’t even have a job?"

4. Stonewalling: when the listener withdraws from the conversation, usually shutting down and can look like ignoring the other person. Tuning out, acting busy, leaving the conversation.

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