October 16, 2017

Dr. John Gottman, the founder of The Gottman Institute in Seattle, has proven that there are four communication styles which are extremely destructive to relationships. These patterns of interaction are Criticism, Defensiveness, Stonewalling, and Contempt. If these styles persist in partnerships, it could mean divorce or separation. Knowing what they are and being able to stop these patterns from occurring, are musts for long-term happy and healthy marriages.

1. Criticism

Don’t confuse criticism with a complaint. Criticism is attacking your partners sense of self.  “It makes the victim feel assaulted, rejected, and hurt, and often causes the perpetrator and victim to fall into an escalating pattern” (Lisitsa, 2013) of the next three patterns.

Complaint: I was upset to see that you didn’t take the trash out. I thought we agreed that you would do that?

Criticism: You never follow through when anything that you say.

2. Contempt

“When we communicate in this state, we are truly mean – treating others with disrespect, mocking them with sarcasm, ridicule, name-calling, mimicking, and/or body language such as eye-rolling. The target of contempt is made to feel despised and worthless. Contempt is the single greatest predictor of divorce according to Dr. Gottman’s work. It must be eliminated” (Lisitsa, 2013).

Example: You are so selfish. All you ever do is talk about yourself. Stop acting like a child and think about someone else for a change.

3. Defensiveness

“When we feel accused unjustly, we fish for excuses so that our partner will back off. Unfortunately, this strategy is almost never successful. Our excuses just tell our partner that we don’t take them seriously, trying to get them to buy something that they don’t believe, that we are blowing them off” (Lisitsa, 2013). Defensiveness is just another way of blaming your partner.

Partner 1: Did you take the dog for a walk?

Partner 2: I was too busy. You knew I was going to be busy today, why didn’t you do it?

4. Stonewalling

“Stonewalling occurs when the listener withdraws from the interaction. In other words, stonewalling is when one person shuts down and closes himself/herself off from the other. It is a lack of responsiveness to your partner and the interaction between the two of you.  Rather than confronting the issues (which tend to accumulate!) with our partner, we make evasive maneuvers such as tuning out, turning away, acting busy, or engaging in obsessive behaviors. It takes time for the negativity created by the first three horsemen to become overwhelming enough that stonewalling becomes an understandable “out,” but when it does, it frequently becomes a habit. (Lisitsa, 2013).


Lisitsa, E., (2013). The Gottman Institute. (The Four Horsemen: Criticism, Contempt, Defensiveness, and Stonewalling.) 
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