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Hilber Psychological Services

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The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Part 2

Our last entry, “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Part 1,” discussed the first two unhealthy communication styles among partners based on Dr. John Gottman’s research. The following discusses the next two unhealthy communication styles, along with examples of what this may look like in a given relationship.


  • Defensiveness: Perceiving yourself as a victim, and thus, using various communication tactics (listed below) to dismiss your perceived attacker.
    • Examples:
      • Cross-complaining: Ignoring what your partner said and meeting his or her complaint with a complaint
        Partner A: “You never help me wash the dishes.” Partner B: “Yeah? Well you never do the laundry.” Partner A: “Well you always hog the bathroom.” Partner B: “And you never cook dinner.”
      • Yes-butting: Initially you agree with your partner, but end the conversation disagreeing with your partner
        Partner A: “We never spend quality time together because you’re always so busy.” Partner B: “Yes, that is true. But, I am busy working so we can afford to live here, so I really cannot cut back my hours.”
      • Making excuses: Using external issues to justify your behavior
        “It’s not my fault that I was late because I hit traffic,” “I have been so busy working I didn’t know it was our anniversary because I didn’t know what day it was,” “I couldn’t pick up the kids from school because I was waiting all day for the plumber so I couldn’t shower until after he was gone, and then I forgot my wallet so I had to drive back home, then on my way to the school I received a call that I had to take…”
      • Whining: Making short statements that do not contribute to the conflict
        “It’s not fair,” “It’s not my fault,” “Stop doing that.”
      • Repeating yourself without paying attention to your partner
        Partner A: “I’m sorry we cannot afford to pay for a vacation this year.” Partner B: “I work so hard and am so stressed all the time.” Partner A: “I feel like this is more than just cutting back on vacation…” Partner B: “I’m working as hard as I can and I’m really stressed.” Partner A: “I know but we can take a mini-vacation here instead.” Partner B: “I’m working as hard as I can!”
  • Stonewalling: You or your partner “check-out” of a conversation either physically or mentally in order to avoid conflict.
    • Physical Examples: Walking out of the room while your partner is talking, turning your back to your partner, or turning on the television when your partner is talking.
    • Mental Examples: Staring silently at your partner with no intention to speak, changing the subject to another topic, or dismissing your partner’s concern and moving on to another topic.
      • Partner A: “I’m really concerned about how much money we are spending." Partner B: “It looks really dark outside - is it suppose to rain today?"
      • Partner A: “I really wish you didn’t have to work on the weekends..." Partner B: “That’s nice. Hey what are we having for dinner?"

Now that you are aware of the four main ways individuals unknowingly sabotage a relationship, it is important to understand why these concepts negatively affect a relationship. Dr. Gottman discovered a 5:1 ratio in his studies. He concluded that for every one negative comment directed at your partner, it takes five positive comments to balance out that one negative comment. Think about what that means for your relationship. When couples are in conflict, it can be very difficult to think positively of your partner when you yourself are hurting. Think about your interactions during conflict and how many negative things you say that are directed at your partner. Now think about whether you or your partner discuss positive things about one another at the end of a given fight. It is not uncommon for couples to argue and then continue their lives with unresolved conflict. This may be a factor hindering your relationship from growing and contributing to unhappiness within the relationship.

While this information may seem bleak or depressing, do not be discouraged! There are many ways in which to turn your relationship around. Tune in next time to hear about ways to improve communication in your relationship. Also be sure to check out previous blog entry “The Language of Love” to have a better understanding of how both you and your partner show and interpret love.

Furthermore, seeking couples counseling or individual counseling can be a wonderful option toward altering unhealthy communication patterns. For any questions, please contact us at Hilber Psychological Services to set up an appointment. If you are thinking about therapy but are unsure how to approach it, you can read Dr. Hilber’s blog “How do you start therapy?” For more general questions about therapy, please visit FAQ at Hilber Psychological Services.