Communication in Your Relationships

Healthy Communication is Essential for Successful Relationships


John Gottman’s 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse:

These four methods of communication often get you into trouble in your relationships and can lead to unhappiness, resentment, or loss of trust or distance.

(1) Criticism: verbally attacking your partner’s personality or character.

  • Criticism is usually an attempt to achieve control or a dominant position in the relationship; your intention may be to feel heard, but you end up leaving your partner feeling incredibly hurt.
  • Criticism can be a form of expression for frustration; oftentimes partners do not realize they are being critical and hurting their loved one.
  • Are you angry or frustrated in your relationship? Think about the words you are using before you say them.
  • When your partner feels critcized they may shut down, withdraw or even criticize back.
  • The intention may be resolution, but criticism is not a means to achieve a solution.

(2) Contempt:  attacking your partner’s sense of self with the intention to insult or psychologically abuse them.

  • These are hurtful statements that strike at the core of who a person is.
  • Again, there may be an intent to establish a dominant position or be heard.
  • When your partner is attacked in this manner, they may withdraw, question their self-esteem, or attack back.

(3) Defensiveness:  viewing yourself as the victim in efforts to ward off a received attack and reverse blame.

  • When you are attacked, the natural response is to attack back….”well you did….” “well that’s because you did…”
  • This will continuously lead you and your partner in a circular pattern of communication; leading to hurt and rejection.
  • You both want to be heard, but attacking one another will only lead you to shut down.

(4)  Stonewalling:  withdrawing from a relationship as a way to avoid conflict in efforts to convey disapproval, distance and separation.

  • Have you ever given or received the ‘silent treatment’?  Silence sends a passive message of disengagement and anger, hence partners cannot learn what is wrong. How can you fix things if you do not know what is wrong?
  • This can happen for a number of reasons. One reason could be that a partner never feels heard in their relationship and has resorted to pulling away as their solution.
  • Often, a partner may send a message that they are hurt and expect you to figure it out and solve it.  That will not happen without open, healthy communication.

Take some time and evaluate if you and your partner or loved one have been engaging in any of these four styles of communication.  You may begin to identify where things are going wrong lately.  Remember, this is a starting place.  You may need some outside help to get back on track!