The Four Horsemen In Relationship And Their Antidotes

If you have ever attended couples counseling, there is a good chance that you have learned some skills from the Gottman Institute. I enjoy utilizing these skills with couples in my therapy practice, but also with individual clients because communication and relationships are everywhere. According to Gottman’s research, they have identified the 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Below I have listed the Four Horsemen and their antidotes:   

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Definition of Criticism:

Criticism is an attack. Criticism is not constructive feedback or a critique. Starting an argument in an argument with a raised voice, personal attack, or with a harsh critical tone is one sure fire way to turn a discussion into an argument.

Antidote of Criticism:

Gentle Start Up helps lessen the blow. Use “I” statements, describe the event and not the person, let the person know what you want versus what you do not want, be polite, and give appreciation. For example at home, “I feel upset when the trash is overflowing in the kitchen. I would appreciate it if you would take the trash out after dinner and I can clean the dishes.” For example at work, “I feel distracted when I am working at my desk and you begin having a conversation with me. I would really appreciate it if you could first knock and see if I have a moment to chat.”

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Definition of Defensiveness:

Defensiveness is a way to protect and preserve yourself. When we believe we are being attacked (criticized) we become defensive. The Gottmans have observed defensiveness manifesting in two ways: to counter the attack and to play innocent victim.

Antidote of Defensiveness:

Take Responsibility. By taking responsibility, even for just a small part of the situation, you can help de-escalate the conflict.

Discover The Four Horsemen in Relationships & Their Antidotes


Definition of Contempt : 

According to the Gottmans, Contempt is the most damaging of the four horsemen in relationships. To be contemptuous means to look down upon the other person from a position of superiority. Some examples of this horsemen are sarcasm, cynicism, eye-rolling, name-calling, mockery, and hostile humor all at the expense of the other person. (As a Chicagoan, I do love sarcasm but not at the expense of others). 

Antidote of Contempt:

We all have wants, desires, and needs. However, when those are not being met, we might find ourselves here with contempt. Thus, the antidote to contempt is to clearly describe your own feelings, needs, and desires without sarcasm and cynicism. The Gottmans recommend describing your own feelings and not the other person’s feelings.

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Definition of Stonewalling: 

Stonewalling occurs when we turn away from the speaker physically, mentally, and emotionally. When we are being criticized we begin to shut-down or tune-out in order to cope with the physiological responses going on inside of our body. What we have learned from the research is that when we are emotionally activated/flooded, our bodies release increased levels of the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline. Not only do increased levels of these hormones take a toll on our body, they also make it difficult for us to listen, think, and communicate. When we begin to tune-out mentally, our bodies begin to provide cues to the speaker that we are tuned-out. What happens next depends on the situation, the speaker, and the listener. Typically the more the listener sends cues that they are disengaged, the speaker will turn up the attack, and the cycle continues. 

Antidote of Stonewalling:

Physiological self-soothing. In other words, take a timeout. The Gottmans recommend 20 minutes, and practice some mindfulness and relaxation skills. When you find yourself becoming activated, if you are able to, communicate to the speaker that you are going to excuse yourself for a break and when you come back you can finish the discussion. If the situation does not allow for you to take a break, check out these mindfulness skills that you can practice without having to leave your desk or walk away.

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