The Four Horsemen are four communication habits that increase the likelihood of divorce, according to research by psychologist and renowned marriage researcher John Gottman, Ph.D. Those four behaviors are criticism, defensiveness, stonewalling, and contempt.
Gottman named these four communication habits as a play on the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse in the Christian Bible’s New Testament. Those four horsemen–conquest, war, hunger, and death–signaled the end of times. Similarly, when there is a chronic use of Gottman’s Four Horsemen, research has shown the relationship is likely to become unstable and unhappy and, in likelihood, will end.
Since the 1970s, Gottman has studied thousands of couples in what is called the Love Lab, where he and his team watched couples interact and tracked their relational satisfaction. Through this research, they were able to distill the relational habits that make some couples “masters” and other couples “disasters” in relationships. Gottman found that when couples utilize criticism, defensiveness, stonewalling, and/or contempt during their difficult moments, they trigger what’s known as the “distance and isolation cascade.” This means that as a couple utilizes any of these four habits without successful “repair” over time, they will turn toward each other less and less to meet their connection needs.
Of course, most people will use these habits from time to time in their relationships. None of us are immune. The key is that we recognize their use, quickly make repairs, and work toward utilizing them less and less.