The Gottman Method of Couples Therapy, founded by John Gottman is a series of research based interventions that combines nearly 40 years of studies and clinical practice of more than 3000 couples. This structured and goal-oriented therapy assists couples to develop greater connection, understanding and intimacy in their relationship. 


The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse


The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse is a metaphor found in the New Testament depicting the end of time. They represent conquest, war, hunger, and death. The Gottman Method uses this phrase to describe ineffective communication styles that can lead to the demise a relationship. 


To have zero conflict in a relationship is very rare and for the rest of us, having an understanding of what feeds disharmony and what supports harmonious relations is important for us to know if we want a close and loving relationship with our partner. 


So what doesn’t work?  


1. Criticism – Criticism is often very personal and attacks the character of the other person.

“You never take out the garbage, you’re so lazy..”

The offending party is then left feeling assaulted, offended and hurt. This is then likely to result in the person on the receiving end to retaliate in defensiveness, which can create pervasive patterns that can be difficult to break out of. 


Antidote – Simply reframe what you want to say by owning what you feel and ask for what you need without attack or blame, it’s important to express a positive need. 

“I feel annoyed that you haven’t taken the garbage out again tonight, when you do it I feel loved and supported, can you please take out today?” 


2. Defensiveness – When we go into protection by using defensiveness against a perceived attack which is usually criticism, it is corrosive to your relationship.

“I’m always taking the garbage out, and this one time I don’t do it you jump on me, so unfair!”

We can feel unjustly accused and victimised, coming up with a million excuses to protect our position, and why they are wrong, and we are right. This will come across as being dismissive of what our partner is trying to say, of not listening to their needs, which will fuel the situation even more. 


Antidote – The key here is to simply take responsibility for your part of the conflict, own what you have done.

“Yes, I did forget to take it out tonight, I know how important it is to you that I do this, I’m sorry”


3. Contempt – Contempt is when we make statements from a seemingly elevated position of superiority using sarcasm, cynicism, derogatory names, mockery and eye rolling. Once contempt has crept in things are not looking good and it is the greatest predictor of divorce. 

“You idiot, you forgot to take the garbage out AGAIN!” 


Antidote – The best antidote for contempt is to build a consistent appreciation and respect for each other. 

“I really appreciate how you always remember the little things, like taking out the garbage, I love having you around”


4. Stonewalling – Sometimes in an attempt to psychologically self-soothe one party will remove themselves from the argument by going quiet and shutting down. This can incite the other partner further as they may feel shut out and rejected, causing more anxiety and distress. 


Antidote – It is a good thing to disengage if you are emotionally ‘flooded’, but is best to be clear with your partner that you need time out. It takes around 20 minutes for your body to physiologically calm back down. You can then return to the conversation more centred and connected. 


Kate Chorley is trained in the Gottman Method of Couples Therapy and is available for sessions at her Blacktown and Parramatta Clinic’s in Sydney. To make an appointment – call 0402134097 or here. 

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