Gottman's Four Horsemen

collage image of 4 horses

You may or may not have encountered the dreaded Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: Death, Famine, War, and Conquest — these are figures rooted in Christianity, and are warnings of impending doom. But have you ever heard of Gottman’s Four Horsemen?

Developed by the world-renowned power couple John and Julie Gottman of the Gottman Institute, Gottman’s Four Horsemen are Criticism, Contempt, Defensiveness, and Stonewalling. These are detrimental communication tactics that may lead to the end of a relationship, so it’s best to recognize and avoid engaging in any of these. 

Today, we’ll be looking at some Marriage Pact questions and how they relate to each of the Four Horsemen (P.S. some questions are relatively new, so you’ll be getting a sneak peek!). 

Criticism: attacking your partner’s character and sense of self, rather than just presenting a complaint

  • MP Question: “There are no bad people, only bad actions”

    • This statement is almost the antithesis of Criticism. If people strongly agree with this statement, they would be less likely to blame the person if something goes wrong, and more likely to shift the focus onto the action and its consequences.

Contempt: being condescending and treating your partner as if they are lesser than you

  • MP Question: “I feel uncomfortable when people cry in front of me”

    • The wording of this question suggests that a person who agrees with this is very disturbed by someone who is currently in an obviously vulnerable state. It’s almost as if they are looking down disdainfully at the crying person, rather than being able to accept and sympathize with them. 

Defensiveness: deflecting your partner’s feedback by playing the victim and not accepting responsibility for your actions

  • MP Question: “When someone is upset with me, my first instinct is to [double down …apologize]”

    • If someone’s first instinct is to apologize, they are immediately taking accountability and recognizing the pain they have caused. However, if someone was to double down, they are defending their position and not being receptive to the feedback.

Stonewalling: shutting down and becoming unresponsive to your partner

  • MP Question: "Loving someone means you're always available to them"

    • If one answers “strongly agree” to this, they are committed to always being there for their partner—the opposite of Stonewalling. They are more likely to be open to conversation and open communication, rather than ignoring their partner or giving them the cold shoulder. 

These are just a few examples of how Gottman’s Four Horsemen are represented in Marriage Pact’s large collection of questions. In order to be succinct, we decided not to take a deep dive into some other relevant questions this week (such as “not everyone deserves my empathy” for Contempt or “I appreciate getting constructive criticism” under Defensiveness). But if you are interested in a follow-up with more examples, feel free to let us know <3.