Gottman’s Communication Patterns That Destroy Trust

Lately, I’ve been fascinated with all that I have read about the Gottman Method. One that stuck out was the 4 Horsemen.
This metaphor is used to describe communication styles that, according to the Gottman Institute, can predict the end of a relationship.
1) Criticizing the other involves attacking the core of their character. It is quite different from voicing a complaint. It makes the listener feel rejected and hurt and often causes both individuals to fall into an escalating pattern where the 1st horseman reappears with greater frequency and intensity.

2) Contempt goes far beyond criticism and assumes a position of moral superiority. Communication in this state is defined by treating others with disrespect, ridicule, name-calling and mocking with sarcasm. Contempt is fuelled by long-simmering negative thoughts about the other person.

3) Defensiveness is typically a response to criticism and is nearly omnipresent when a relationship is on the rocks. The person not only responds defensively, but they reverse blame in an attempt to make it the other’s fault. Instead, a non-defensive response can express acceptance of responsibility, admission of fault, and understanding of the other’s perspective.

4) Stonewalling is usually a response to contempt and occurs when the listener withdraws from the interaction, shuts down, and simply stops responding to the other individual. Rather than confronting the issue, stonewallers use evasive maneuvers such as tuning out, acting busy, or engaging in distracting behaviors. When stonewalling is sought as a frequent escape, it can turn into a bad habit that isn’t easy to stop. If you feel like you’re stonewalling in a conversation: take a 20-minute break to do something relaxing to help with feeling emotionally flooded. Then, once you feel ready, return to the conversation and instigate a healthy communication to dissolve the conflict.

 ~Being able to identify the Four Horsemen in conflict discussions is a necessary first step to eliminating them but is insufficient. In order to drive away destructive communication/conflict patterns, you must balance them with healthy and productive ones~  

1 thought on “Gottman’s Communication Patterns That Destroy Trust

  1. Athina Pereira

    Very interesting topic, Minal! The Gottman Method is quite a successful approach in counselling.
    I especially agree with what you say at the end – about how it’s not only enough that we recognise harmful patterns in our behaviour, but also make a conscious effort to replace them with healthier patterns. I think one can apply this advice in any problem area of their life.
    Great article!!


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