Marriage Monday: The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse – Part 4

Over the past four weeks we have been examining what John Gottman labels “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” in marriage. Each of these unhealthy marital interactions inflicts deadly wounds to the health and stability of any marriage in which they are present. Thus far, we have seen the damage that can be done by criticism and contempt. We also noticed where these first two horsemen are present; defensiveness does not linger far behind.

When criticism, contempt, and defensiveness have remained present over long periods of time, the marriage reaches a potent toxicity level that allows the fourth and final horsemen to stroll into the relationship. This last horseman is known as stonewalling, and he is very capable of giving marriages a death blow.

Stonewalling takes place when one partner completely unplugs and tunes the other out. It occurs when one spouse becomes so overwhelmed by the amount of criticism, contempt, and defensiveness in the relationship that the need to be removed from the hostility becomes of utmost importance. When stonewalling makes its way into a marriage, the couple has reached a point where little opportunity for change can take place without immediate and extreme intervention.

When one simply blocks out what the other is saying; here is born a negative cycle of marital interaction. One partner criticizes the other, and the other retreats. The less one partner pays attention and the more aloof they are, the greater the other spouse screams, attacks, and criticizes.

Ray Stedman asks, “Hear about the fellow who had the nagging wife? ‘Talk, talk, talk, talk, he said to his friend. ‘That’s all my wife ever does is talk, talk, talk, talk.” His friend responded, ‘Well, what does she talk about?’ ‘I don’t know,’ he said, ‘she don’t say.’” It is likely the reason he no longer hears what she says is because he is stonewalling her. He has heard enough of the nagging that he no longer listens. As we said before, this leads to more nagging. The cycle perpetuates itself until either the couple goes their separate way or they become roommates living under the same roof that rarely interact.

Besides the obvious problems they create, the reason criticism, contempt, and defensiveness are so deadly is because they lead to stonewalling. When stonewalling attains s a presence in the marriage, avoiding conflict at all cost through disengagement becomes the priority, and as a byproduct, one spouse avoids the partner altogether.

It is imperative that we continually monitor our own hearts, the hearts of our spouse, the way we interact, and what we say toward one another. Let’s keep these four poisonous interactions out of our marriages and avoid Armageddon in our homes.

Are you critical toward your spouse? Have any feelings of contempt? Feel the need to be defensive? Find that you want to avoid conflict? Does your spouse seem to not want to hear what you have to say? Maybe there are some things we need to change. Let’s look deep inside. If we find any of these present in our marriages, let’s send them out. Our marriages are far too important to let unravel, and our lives are too short not to enjoy the person we are committed to.

And be kindand compassionateto one another, forgivingone another, just as God also forgave you in Christ. -Ephesians 4:32

Walk good, live wise, be blessed.


  • I’m single and I have learned a lot from this series. Thank you so much for doing it! It’s very appreciated!

  • Kathie says:

    Thank you, Josh. Good series. I feel that my marriage is strong, but in your posts and I can see where a sharp word has cast a shadow of these horsemen. It’s a good reminder to always stand guard. I shared it with a few friends as well.

  • mgenthert says:

    Hey Josh, I stumbled across your blog and I have loved this series. I think we all occasionally venture into some of these behaviors, but my heart breaks for people whose marriages exist like this day in and day out. I pray for the courage to speak into the lives of people who need to see the damage they are causing in their most important human relationship. Thanks again.

Leave a Reply


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox

Join other followers: