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The Four Horsemen: How These Relationship Behaviours Can Lead to the End of Your Partnership

A man sitting alone
The Four Horsemen

Every relationship has its ups and downs, but some patterns of behavior can lead to the downfall of even the most promising partnerships.

According to Dr. John Gottman, a renowned psychologist and relationship expert, there are four negative behaviors that can predict the end of a relationship with over 90% accuracy. These behaviors are known as the Four Horsemen of the Relationship Apocalypse, and they include criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling.

In this post, we'll explore each of these behaviors and offer tips on how to avoid them to keep your relationship healthy and strong.


Criticism involves attacking your partner's character or personality rather than their behavior. For example, saying "You're so lazy" instead of "I wish you would help out with the chores more often" is a form of criticism. Criticism can be damaging to a relationship because it makes your partner feel attacked and defensive, which can lead to a breakdown in communication and trust.

To avoid criticism, focus on the behavior you want to change, not the person. Use "I" statements to express your feelings and avoid attacking your partner's character. For example, "I feel frustrated when the house is messy" is a more effective way to communicate than "You're so messy and lazy."


Contempt is the most toxic of the Four Horsemen and involves treating your partner with disrespect, disgust, or hostility. Examples of contempt include name-calling, sarcasm, and mocking. Contempt can erode the foundation of a relationship and lead to feelings of resentment and loneliness.

To avoid contempt, make an effort to show appreciation and respect for your partner. Avoid sarcasm and name-calling, and instead, focus on finding ways to support and uplift each other. Make time to do things you both enjoy and express gratitude for your partner's positive qualities.

Interestedly, men NEED affirmations from their partner. This is a biological need - men need to feel needed and valued and not taken for granted. When men do not feel valued, they are twice (yes TWICE) as likely to get divorced. It is also the number one predictor of relationship unhappiness.

Paying attention, and taking the time to make your partner feel wonderful should be a priority in any relationship regardless of gender. However, for men, it could make or break the relationship.


Defensiveness involves reacting to your partner's complaints or criticisms with defensiveness or excuses. Instead of taking responsibility for your actions, you deflect blame onto your partner or make excuses for your behavior. Defensiveness can escalate conflict and prevent productive communication.

To avoid defensiveness, take responsibility for your actions and listen to your partner's perspective without interrupting or making excuses. Validate their feelings and acknowledge their concerns, even if you don't agree with them. Focus on finding a solution to the problem rather than assigning blame.


Stonewalling involves withdrawing from the conversation or shutting down emotionally during a conflict. This can include avoiding eye contact, giving the silent treatment, or leaving the room. Stonewalling can be especially frustrating for your partner because it can feel like they are talking to a wall.

To avoid stonewalling, take a break from the conversation if you feel overwhelmed or flooded with emotion. Let your partner know that you need a few minutes to calm down and come back to the conversation when you're ready. Use active listening skills to show your partner that you're engaged in the conversation and willing to work through the problem together.

Four Horsemen and Attachment Style

Attachment style and the Four Horsemen are two key concepts in the realm of relationships and are often discussed together.

Attachment style refers to the way we relate to others in close relationships, while the Four Horsemen are destructive communication patterns that can lead to relationship breakdown.

Attachment style is a term used to describe the way we form and maintain relationships with others. It is based on the attachment theory, which was first introduced by psychologist John Bowlby in the 1950s.

According to this theory, our attachment style is formed in childhood and is influenced by our early experiences with our primary caregiver(s). Attachment style can be categorised into three main types: secure, anxious and avoidant. Each attachment style is characterised by specific behaviors, thoughts, and feelings in relationships.

The Four Horsemen, on the other hand, as discussed, are communication patterns that can lead to relationship breakdown.

So, how do these two concepts relate to each other?

Research has shown that attachment style can influence how individuals respond to the Four Horsemen.

Individuals with a secure attachment style are less likely to engage in these destructive communication patterns, while individuals with an anxious or avoidant attachment style are more likely to engage in these patterns.

In addition, the presence of the Four Horsemen in a relationship can exacerbate attachment-related issues, leading to further relationship distress.

It is important to note that attachment style and the Four Horsemen are not necessarily fixed or unchangeable. With awareness and effort, individuals can work to identify their attachment style and address any issues related to the Four Horsemen. Couples can also work together to recognise and address these patterns in their relationship, with the help of a therapist or other resources.

In conclusion, the Four Horsemen of the Relationship Apocalypse can be deadly to a relationship, but they are not inevitable. By recognizing these negative behaviors and making an effort to avoid them, you can build a healthy, long-lasting relationship based on trust, respect, and communication.

Remember to focus on the behaviour you want to change, show appreciation and respect for your partner, take responsibility for your actions, and stay engaged in the relationship.

Attachment style can also play a role in how the Four Horsemen affect your relationship. If you have an anxious or avoidant attachment style, you may be more susceptible to experiencing these negative behaviors. However, with self-awareness and communication with your partner, you can work to overcome these challenges and build a stronger connection.

Ultimately, a successful relationship requires effort, commitment, and the willingness to learn and grow together.

By recognizing the Four Horsemen and practicing healthy communication and conflict resolution skills, you can build a foundation for a happy and fulfilling relationship that can stand the test of time.

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