Predicting divorce: the four horses of the Apocalypse by John Gottman, PhD


Dr. John Gottman, renowned psychologist and relationship researcher, has conducted extensive research at the University of Washington on couples and why relationships fail. He has been able to predict whether a couple would divorce with over 90% accuracy based on six predictive factors. One of them was named The Four Horses of the Apocalypse. These are:

  • Criticism: criticizing a partner suggests that their personality or character is the problem, when in reality we are upset about something they did (a behavior). Criticism is different from complaints. Complaint is a more appropriate measure, since it makes the behavior the problem, not the person.

  • Contempt: talking to a partner with feelings of superiority (looking down on their character or personality) is problematic. It shows up as sneering, sarcasm, cynicism, eye-rolling, name-calling, mockery, and hostile humor.

  • Defensiveness: is a way of deflecting blame away from oneself and dumping it on someone else (a partner) by either counterattacking or whining and acting like an innocent victim.

  • Stonewalling: when a partner shuts down and avoid responding all together, or responds in monosyllables or curt replies, looking elsewhere.

Learning about these factors can help us become more aware of our behavior in romantic relationships. Owing our part in conflict is an important step towards personal change and and improving our relationships.

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October 13, 2019

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