Hilber Psychological Services
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Hilber Psychological Services

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The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Part 1

Now that all the hearts, flowers, and chocolates surrounding Valentine's day have been replaced by leprechaun's and rainbows, it’s important to take some time to acknowledge how much work goes into maintaining a healthy relationship. Relationships can be difficult - they can make you frustrated, make you angry, make you sad, or all of the above at the same time and more. During these difficult times, how are we suppose to react? Where are the scripts that discuss appropriate ways to deal with conflict? What roles do individuals play in conflict, and how can conflict be dealt with more effectively? Is there such a thing as “good conflict” and “bad conflict”? Unfortunately, such scripts can be hard to find. Researcher Dr. John Gottman asked himself many of these questions and more. Through his profound research Dr. Gottman has discovered four conflict styles that are the most problematic to any given relationship, and if not dealt with appropriately, may ultimately result in the relationship’s demise. Dr. Gottman referred to these four toxic communication styles as “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.”

So, what are these toxic styles? What do they look like? Are these concepts that you have unknowingly been incorporating into your own relationships? Let’s examine two of the four styles now.

  1. Criticism: Attacking your partner’s character or personality, typically with the intent of proving yourself right and your partner wrong. This often includes sweeping generalizations within the accusations.
    1. Examples: “You never listen to me when I’m trying to talk to you,” “You always wait until the last minute to get anything done,” “You never take the children to soccer practice.”
    2. Contempt: Attacking your partner’s core sense of self through use of insults or specifically hurtful statements. This includes both verbal and non-verbal statements and cues.
      1. Verbal Examples: “You’re such a slob,” “You’re lazy,” “You are so perfect you never do anything wrong.”
      2. Non-verbal Examples: Rolling your eyes, using sarcastic or mocking tones, using nasty or inappropriate facial expressions toward your partner.

Now that you have read about two of the four horsemen, does anything look familiar? Do you feel that you have experienced any of these concepts in your relationships, past or present? Awareness of unhealthy communication patterns is the first step toward actively altering poor communication patterns. If you have noticed some of these elements in your relationships, do not worry! It is never too late to change. You may want to check out our previous blog entry titled The Language of Love to have a better understanding of how both you and your partner show and interpret love. Having awareness of you and your partner's love style can be just what you need to help put your relationship back on track. Be sure to tune back next week to read The Four Horsemen of the Apolcalypse, Part 2!

Seeking couples counseling can be a great option to create a safe space in order to discuss issues and work on how to effectively communicate. If you are starting to think about therapy but are unsure of what it may look like, please read Dr. Hilber’s blog “How do you start therapy?” If you have any general questions, you can visit FAQ at Hilber Psychological Services.