Posts tagged The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

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.

Marriage Monday: The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse – Part 3


We have been examining four marital interactions that cause significant problems within a marriage, which John Gottman aptly labels “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.” The first rider was criticism, followed closely by contempt. The next horseman to come riding is defensiveness. It should be noted that these riders do not always march single file into a relationship; instead they take turns inflicting damage within the marriage.

In the middle of conflict, our gut-level reaction is to put on the boxing gloves. We want to defend our every action. Sometimes we get defensive by denying that we are responsible, making excuses or trying to one-up our partner’s complaint with a complaint of our own. We are masters at removing our own culpability in problematic interactions.

While it is quite normal to get defensive when conflict arises, it is a detriment to our relationships. In the middle of an argument, or as most people prefer to label them a “discussion”, we give ample reason as to why something is not our fault. This is how these “discussions” generally go when defensiveness is involved:

One spouse says to the other, “You did ______ (feel free to fill in the blank).” The other spouse replies, “Well, that wasn’t my fault. I would not have had to do ______ if you would not have done _______.” Then the other spouse says, “Oh, well that makes perfect sense.” End of argument.

It never works that way, does it? Being defensive continues to perpetuate an argument. Being defensive is really just blame shifting. It places the problem back on the other person. We blame them for the course of action we chose to take. “Well, if you hadn’t, then I wouldn’t have.” The truth is, no one else is to blame for our behavior. We always choose our behavior. How we act is always a choice. Yes, we can even choose to react in a way that is not defensive.

Defensiveness, criticism, and contempt, here we have a perfect storm brewing, and the final horseman has not yet ridden into town. So how can we deal with defensiveness?

First, what if we really listened to our partner when they had a complaint? We know it is easy to sidestep a complaint with shifting the blame, but this doesn’t address any problems. What if we listened to what our spouse had to say and examined our lives to see what needs to change? What if, instead of spending all of our energy coming up with excuses or trying to be heard, we simply focused on hearing what they are saying? Sometimes, we do mess up. At times, things are our fault.

When issuing a complaint of our own, maybe we can examine the nature of that complaint. Are we being critical? How can we let our spouse know there is a problem without attacking their character or demeaning them?

The goal of a “discussion” is to resolve problems in our relationships. Going on the attack or being defensive will never allow us to focus on and fix the difficulties in our marriages.

Marriage is about two people playing on the same team. It is impossible to be on the same team while one plays offense and the other defense. Maybe it is time to stop shifting the blame and look in the mirror. Sometimes we do mess up after all.

Why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye but don’t notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and look, there’s a log in your eye? -Matthew 7:3-4

Walk good. Live wise. Be blessed.

Marriage Monday: The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse – Part 2


Last week, we began looking at what John Gottman labels “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. “ These are four specific interactions between spouses that, if not alleviated, will wreak havoc in a marriage and pave the way for divorce. Criticism is the first horse that rides with destructive intent. The second horse that comes close on the heels of criticism is contempt. Contempt can be described as open disrespect from one spouse toward the other. It one-ups criticism in a vile way, and involves tearing or putting down your partner in painful ways.

We have all been around couples where one spouse berates the other. The tension in these situations is palpable. Contempt takes many forms, such as: put-downs, rolling of the eyes, biting humor, name-calling or pointing out inadequacies. It is the communication of general disgust with one’s partner. The form I see most often is where one spouse will use harsh “humor” toward the other all in “good fun” but really means every word.

When contempt enters the relationship, the partner does not point out things in order to fix them. He or she acts in a contemptuous manner simply for the sake of hurting the other, degrading the other, and having an argument.  Invariably, it escalates the conflict within a marriage instead of solving any problems. Isn’t it interesting that two people, who started life together, with an attitude of wanting to be together, can reach this point? It happens extremely often.

So what is the cause of this second horse flaring his nostrils in a relationship? Contempt builds up from criticism and unresolved issues within a relationship. It occurs when problems, disappointments, annoyances, or whatever are continually swept under the rug and percolate in the mind of the partner until the only feelings one has for the other are disdain and disgust. It is evident when contempt has galloped into the relationship.

Generally, at this point it takes pretty drastic intervention to get things back on the right track. When one finds that all of their thoughts toward their spouse are negative it is past time to act. Do something! One of the biggest problems in marriages is that people wait until the ship has sunk before they start trying to bail water.

We must not wait to resolve issues. Deal with them when they arise. The mere passage of time does nothing to resolve problems. In fact, time just keeps the problems bogged down and allows bitterness and contempt to creep in.

My wife and I (who just like everyone else have our stuff to deal with at times) have a question that we ask each other almost daily. We constantly inquire “How is everything in your heart?” Why do we do this? Because we have worked with enough people to know that once things get lodged in a person’s heart without being addressed, it always leads to problems.

How is everything in your heart? How is everything in your marriage? Is there criticism? Has contempt moved in? Things don’t change unless we work to change them. Nothing moves unless it’s shoved. Deal with things in the present.

Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry, for anger gives a foothold to the devil. –Ephesians 4:26-27

Walk good. Live wise. Be blessed.

Go to Top