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Navigating the Four Horsemen: Enhancing Communication in Couples through Gottman Therapy

Updated: Jan 20


Effective communication is the lifeblood of any successful relationship, especially in couples. However, certain communication patterns, identified by renowned psychologist Dr. John Gottman, can have detrimental effects on relationships. These patterns, aptly named the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, are criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling. In this blog, we'll explore how these horsemen impact communication in couples, escalate conflicts, and how a Gottman-trained therapist can help foster healthier communication patterns.


Criticism: The First Horseman

Criticism involves attacking a person's character rather than addressing a specific behavior. In couples, this can create a toxic atmosphere where individuals feel attacked and defensive, hindering open and honest communication. A Gottman therapist helps couples recognize criticism by teaching them to express complaints in a more constructive manner, focusing on the behavior rather than making personal attacks.


Contempt: The Second Horseman

Contempt goes beyond criticism and involves a sense of superiority. Eye-rolling, sarcasm, and name-calling are common manifestations. Contempt breeds resentment and damages the emotional connection between partners. Gottman therapists work with couples to build empathy and cultivate fondness and admiration, fostering a more positive emotional climate.


Defensiveness: The Third Horseman

Defensiveness is a natural response to criticism, but it can escalate conflicts. It involves playing the victim, making excuses, or counterattacking. A Gottman-trained therapist helps couples break this cycle by promoting responsibility and accountability. They teach individuals to express their feelings and needs without becoming defensive, encouraging a more collaborative approach to problem-solving.


Stonewalling: The Fourth Horseman

Stonewalling occurs when one partner withdraws from the conversation, shutting down emotionally. This can make the other partner feel abandoned and escalate the conflict. A Gottman therapist helps couples recognize when stonewalling occurs and provides tools to manage emotional flooding. Techniques such as taking a break and practicing self-soothing can prevent complete emotional shutdown.


Gottman Therapy: A Path to Harmonious Communication

Gottman-trained therapists use specific interventions and exercises to guide couples toward healthier communication patterns:


The Sound Relationship House: This model helps couples build a strong foundation by addressing key components such as trust, commitment, and shared meaning. It serves as a roadmap for understanding and improving the overall health of the relationship.


The Love Map: This exercise involves couples sharing their inner worlds to deepen emotional intimacy. By understanding each other's dreams, fears, and values, couples can strengthen their connection and minimize misunderstandings.


The Aftermath of a Fight: Gottman therapists assist couples in processing arguments constructively. Instead of dwelling on the conflict itself, the focus is on understanding each other's perspectives and finding common ground.


Repair Attempts: Gottman emphasizes the importance of repair attempts—small gestures or comments that signal a desire for resolution. Therapists help couples recognize and utilize these attempts, preventing conflicts from escalating.


The Four Horsemen can wreak havoc on communication in couples, leading to increased conflict and emotional distance. However, with the guidance of a Gottman-trained therapist, couples can learn to recognize and address these destructive patterns. By fostering positive communication habits and emotional connection, couples can build a foundation for a stronger, more harmonious relationship. Through the tools and insights gained in Gottman therapy, couples can ride towards a future characterized by understanding, empathy, and effective communication.


Jacq Babcock, M.S., MFT, is a Gottman Level 1 and 2 Certified therapist. Jacq’s approach is a blend of warm empathy and insightful accountability. They believe that creating change works when there is an environment of positive regard and an ability to be curious about alternative options that have not been explored. Contact our office today to schedule with Jacq.


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