Relationship Armageddon — Gottman’s Four Horsemen of the Relationship Apocalypse

Dr. Donna L. Roberts

Red Flags of Relationship Dissatisfaction
Photo byPhoto by Chandler Cruttenden on Unsplash

John Gottman is a renowned clinical psychologist and researcher who has made significant contributions to the field of relationship science. With a career spanning several decades, Gottman has conducted extensive research on the dynamics of relationships, particularly in the areas of marriage and family therapy. His work has been widely recognized and has had a significant impact on the field of psychology, as well as on the lives of individuals and couples seeking to improve their relationships.

Gottman’s research has focused on the study of couples, and he is widely recognized for his work on identifying the key predictors of relationship success and failure. He has developed a number of assessment tools, including the “Gottman Relationship Checkup”, which can be used to identify the strengths and weaknesses of a relationship, and the “Gottman Sound Relationship House Theory”, which posits that there are seven key components of a healthy relationship: trust, commitment, communication, conflict resolution, intimacy, leisure, and shared meaning.

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, according to Gottman, are four behaviors that he has identified as strong indicators of relationship dissatisfaction and even divorce. These behaviors include:

  1. Criticism: This refers to attacking or blaming one’s partner for their character or personality, rather than addressing a specific behavior or action that is causing a problem.
  2. Contempt: This is characterized by feelings of superiority or disrespect towards one’s partner, and can be expressed through sarcasm, cynicism, or name-calling.
  3. Defensiveness: This refers to responding to one’s partner’s complaints or criticism with counter-accusations or denials, rather than taking responsibility for one’s actions.
  4. Stonewalling: This occurs when one partner withdraws emotionally or physically from the interaction, and can manifest as shutting down or tuning out during a conversation.

These Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are labeled this way because when they are present in a relationship, they can create a negative spiral of interactions that can be very difficult to break out of. This can create a toxic and hostile environment, making it difficult for couples to communicate effectively or feel valued in their relationship. Gottman’s research has shown that couples who engage in these behaviors regularly are more likely to experience negative outcomes, such as decreased relationship satisfaction and increased conflict that often leads to separation or divorce.

However, it is important to note that these behaviors can be changed. Gottman’s work has also shown that couples who learn to replace these Four Horsemen with more positive behaviors, such as expressing appreciation and validation, can significantly improve the quality of their relationship. Based on his research, he has developed the “Gottman Method,” which is a form of therapy that aims to help couples improve their relationship by addressing and changing negative patterns of interaction. This method focuses on teaching couples communication and problem-solving skills, as well as how to increase intimacy and build a strong emotional connection. Through therapy, couples can learn to recognize and change negative patterns, and in turn, create more positive and healthy interactions.


Gottman, J. M. (1994). What predicts divorce? The relationship between marital processes and marital outcomes. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Gottman, J. M., & Silver, N. (1999). The seven principles for making marriage work. New York: Three Rivers Press.

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Writer and university professor researching media psych, generational studies, addiction psychology, human and animal rights, and the intersection of art and psychology.

Canandaigua, NY

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