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4 Horseman: Unhelpful Communication Styles

The “Four Horsemen” refer to the four communication styles in relationships, created by John Gottman, that help couples identify what areas of communication might contribute to conflict in relationships. Once these ways of communication are identified, areas for improvement can be made possible in a relationship, which can lead to healthier communication patterns that create greater understanding and connection with loved ones.

Connection plays an important part in our mental and emotional wellbeing; thus, being able to identify the unhelpful communication styles may allow for the opportunity to create a healthier, more respectable relationship where communication is not a challenge.

The four communication styles:

1. Criticism

  • An attack on your partner at the core of their character
    Makes victim feel assaulted, rejected, and hurt

2. Contempt

  • Treating your partner with disrespect, mocking them with sarcasm, ridicule, calling them names, and mimicking them
  • Target is to make them feel despised and worthless
  • Contempt assumes a position of moral superiority over the partner

3. Defensiveness

  • Usually a response to criticism, looking for excuses and playing the role of the victim so the partner backs off
  • A way of blaming your partners to defend for yourself

4. Stonewalling

  • Usually a response to contempt, withdrawing from an interaction, shutting down, and stops responding to partner
  • Can turn away, act busy, or engage in obsessive or distracting behaviours to avoid confronting issues with partner
When we can understand how we might be coping through the use of certain communication styles we can choose to respond differently to create a different and new experience of connection within relationships, thus feeling seen, heard and understood.

The following are some antidotes for each of the Four Horsemen:

Gentle start up for criticism:

  • Talk about your feelings and express a positive need.

Build culture of appreciation for contempt:

  • Remind yourself of your partner’s positive qualities and find gratitude for positive actions.

Take responsibility for defensiveness:

  • Accept your partner’s perspective and offer an apology for any wrongdoing. Understanding does not mean agreement.

Psychological self-soothing for stonewalling:

  • Take a break and do something soothing and distracting. Also, communicating that you need time and space to process but have intention to return to the conversation when you are not feeling overwhelmed.

If you are looking to find out more information about the four communication styles or are looking for some relationship aids, couples therapy is a great help. Click here to learn more about our couples therapy.

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Written by: Liza AL-Nakash, HBSC, Neuroscience Specialist

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