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The Apocalypse Horsemen
- 4 Behaviors that can Doom your Partnership

By Melissa McFarlane
Inspired by the writings of John Gottman, Ph.D
www.gottman.com

The four most toxic behaviors to a partnership are: criticism, defensiveness, contempt, and stonewalling. They are so lethal to a relationship that John Gottman (relationship expert and best-selling author) calls them the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

Horseman 1: Blaming/Criticism. Criticism consists of attacking your partner instead of his behavior. You will always have some complaints about your partner. But there’s a big difference between a complaint and a criticism. A complaint addresses a specific failed action. A criticism adds some negative words about your partner’s character or personality. A common habit that turns any complaint into criticism is to add at the end of the complaint: “What is wrong with you?” This can be done either explicitly, or it can be done implicitly by the way the complaint is voiced.

Horseman 2: Defensiveness. Although it’s understandable that you would defend yourself when criticized, research shows that this approach rarely works. An attacking partner does not back down or apologize. This is because defensiveness is really another way of blaming. It’s in effect saying: “it’s not me, it’s you”, and it escalates the conflict. It is common for the defensive partner to feel like he is above the conflict, when in fact, he is contributing to the conflict just as much.

Horseman 3: Contempt. Contempt includes sarcasm, belittling, cynicism, name-calling, hostile humor, and belligerence. Contempt is the most poisonous of all horsemen because it conveys disgust and condescension. It has been shown to be harmful to the physical health of an individual. Contempt is fueled by long-simmering negative thoughts about a partner. You’re more likely to have such thoughts if your differences are not regularly resolved after they occur.

Horseman 4: Stonewalling. Stonewalling includes cutting off communication, silent treatments, refusals to engage, withdrawal. Often, after one or more of the previous horsemen have been running wild, a partner will want to tune out of the whole thing. He feels so defenseless against the negativity that he does anything he can to avoid it. The problem is that this will feed even more the contempt in the other partner.

 

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Content herein previously developed by Amy Ahlers and Melissa McFarlane.

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