Marriage Makeover – Day 4

The 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse

Ever feel like your marriage is in shambles? Shards of glass pierce your delicate heart and you wonder what you can possibly do to fix things…

Dr. John Gottman has done some amazing and robust research that has many answers. He and his team have found 4 behaviors that are highly predictive of divorce. In fact, after watching married couples discuss some relationship issues together for only 15 minutes, Dr. Gottman and his team can predict future divorce with up to 94% accuracy!

These 4 behaviors are so destructive that they’ve been named after a reference in the Bible: The 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse. These 4 behaviors are:

Criticism – Attacking our partner at the core of who they are (rather than complaining about their behavior). Examples:

  • Complaint: “I was worried when you didn’t call. I thought we had agreed that we’d pick up the phone for each other.”
  • Criticism: “You never think about other people. I don’t believe you are that forgetful, you’re just selfish! You never think of me!”

We can counteract our tendency to criticize by using “I” statements instead of “you” statements, avoid “always/never” phraseology, and look for the positive in our partner.

Contempt – Being mean; treating others with disrespect, sarcasm, ridicule, name-calling, mimicking, and/or body language such as eye-rolling. The target of contempt is made to feel despised and worthless. Example:

  • “You’re ‘tired?’ Poor baby. I’ve been dealing with the kids the entire day, cleaning and cooking while you just come home and rest. Ridiculous!”

Contempt is fueled by negative thoughts about your partner, which come to a head when you attack from a position of assumed superiority.Contempt is the single greatest predictor of divorce according to Dr. Gottman’s work. We can counteract our tendency to show contempt by avoiding negative thoughts about our partner and consciously practice assuming the best about them.

Defensiveness – An attempt to defend oneself from perceived attack; we feel accused unjustly, so we look for excuses so that our partner will back off. Example:

Spouse 1: “Did you do what you promised to do and call Rachael to tell her we’re not coming tonight?”

Spouse 2, being defensive: “I was just too busy today. I’m pretty sure you knew just how busy my schedule was. Why didn’t you just do it?”

Spouse 2, being non-defensive: “Oops, I forgot. I should have asked you this morning to do it because I knew my day would be packed. Let me call them right now.”

We can counteract our tendency toward defensiveness by self soothing, asking our partner to reframe their question or comment, and practicing excellent self care.

Stonewalling – Happens when we withdraw from an interaction, shutting down and closing ourselves off from our partner. Rather than confronting the issues (which tend to build up!) with our partner, we tune out, turn away, or act busy. We can counteract any tendency we may have toward stonewalling by scheduling a time to talk (and keeping things calm!), turning our body to face our partner, showing excellent eye contact, and using rephrasing statements, such as, “If I hear you correctly you’re saying….”

Dr. Gottman has created the Relationship Happiness Tool, which can help you begin to assess how the 4 Horsemen of the Apocalpyse might be affecting your marriage. You can check it out here:

Once you gain awareness of your tendencies, you can begin to reduce criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling quite easily. Awareness is the first step! And reducing these 4 behaviors will significantly increase your marital satisfaction!

You can learn more about Dr. Gottman’s work at

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When you’re living “in alignment” marriage becomes so much easier… you’re not easily offended, you’re more hopeful and optimistic. Follow your feelings: the things that make you feel good are the things you need to do.

Here’s what you should do now:

Look at your calendar and set aside 20 minutes a day for the next 2 weeks (especially on the weekdays). I like to recommend doing it early in the morning so you can make sure it happens.

Then, do today’s CHALLENGE items:

  1. Get yourself into alignment every morning with some meditation, prayer, journaling or exercise… do what raises your energy so you can feel amazing (and make marriage so much easier!). 10 minutes is all you need!
  2. Silence that inner critic that’s constantly looking for the negative in your spouse (and in yourself). Start looking at your spouse as if he’s already his best, most aligned self. Help shift your thoughts by making a daily list of 10 pleasant interactions and thoughts about your spouse. (do this for the remainder of the challenge, maybe even the rest of your life!) What you focus on increases; like attracts like, so train yourself to see the GOOD!


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