Every relationship has its ups and downs, and communication plays a crucial role in how we navigate these challenges. Dr. John Gottman, a renowned psychologist and researcher, has identified four destructive communication patterns that he aptly calls the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.” Let’s explore each of these negative behaviours and their antidotes, using everyday examples to make them relatable.

1. Criticism:

Description: Criticism involves making negative judgments or attacking your partner’s character. This goes beyond addressing a specific issue and can erode trust and intimacy. Imagine a couple having a disagreement about how to handle their finances. One partner says, “You always spend money without thinking. You’re so irresponsible.” This statement attacks the character of the partner rather than focusing on the specific financial issue.

Antidote: Instead of criticising, try using “I” statements. For example, let’s say your partner often forgets to take out the trash. Instead of saying, “You never help with chores,” try saying, “I feel overwhelmed and frustrated when I have to take care of all the chores by myself. Can we find a way to share these responsibilities more effectively?”

2. Contempt:

Description: Contempt is an attitude of disrespect or disdain towards your partner, often expressed through sarcasm, name-calling, or mockery. Picture a scenario where a couple is discussing their weekend plans. One partner mocks the other’s interests, saying, “You want to spend the weekend birdwatching? Seriously? You’re so weird.” This contemptuous attitude can be hurtful and demeaning.

Antidote: To combat contempt, cultivate a culture of appreciation and respect. Instead of mocking your partner’s taste in music, find something you genuinely appreciate about their preferences, like, “I may not share your love for heavy metal, but I admire your passion for music.”

3. Defensiveness:

Description: When faced with criticism, defensiveness involves deflecting blame or playing the victim, hindering effective problem-solving. Consider a situation where one partner forgets to pick up their child from school. When the other partner expresses frustration, the forgetful partner immediately becomes defensive, saying, “It’s not my fault; I had a busy day at work. You should’ve reminded me.” Instead of taking responsibility, they deflect blame.

Antidote: Taking responsibility is the key. If your partner expresses frustration with your forgetfulness, avoid making excuses. Say, “I’m sorry for forgetting to pick up the groceries. I’ll make a list next time to ensure we have everything we need.”

4. Stonewalling:

Description: Stonewalling occurs when one partner emotionally shuts down during a conversation, making it difficult to resolve issues. In a conversation about household chores, one partner becomes overwhelmed and emotionally shuts down. They stop responding, avoid eye contact, and don’t engage in the conversation. They may avoid communication for longer periods of time too. This emotional withdrawal disrupts the communication process and makes problem-solving nearly impossible. It can also leave the other partner feeling abandoned or anxious. 

Antidote: Sometimes, taking a break is necessary, but the key is to commit to returning to the conversation. If you’re discussing household finances and tensions rise, say, “I need a little time to calm down, but let’s continue this conversation in an hour when we can both listen and find a solution.”

Incorporating these antidotes into your relationship can lead to healthier communication and increased connection. It’s essential to address these negative patterns early on to prevent them from becoming chronic issues.

Remember, building positive communication skills, like active listening, empathy, and compromise, can further strengthen your relationship. So, the next time you face a communication challenge, reflect on the Four Horsemen and their antidotes to keep your relationship on a path of growth and understanding. If you feel you need help, counselling or therapy can be a great source of support when it comes to relationship difficulties. It can provide a safe and calm place to discuss issues which have become difficult to resolve within the relationship.