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There’s a husband and wife team of relationship experts out there, Drs. John and Julie Gottman, founders of the The Gottman Institute.

They’ve helped 4,000 couples with the method that they’ve been developing for over 30 years. It’s a great method of helping couples just like you figure out how to have the best relationship possible. Here at Great Lakes Wellness Counseling, we like to use many of their methods. It’s practical, generally easy to learn, and really does work in real life. The focus of what we’ll be sharing with you today is what the Gottmans call the 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

These horsemen are four key behaviors that have been identified over time that couples show when they’re arguing.

A couple stands back to back while arguing with one another. Learn how a couples therapist in Grand Rapids, MI can offer support with conflict. Search for couples counseling in Grand Rapids, MI for help with christian couples counseling near me today. If they are present in your relationship consider them a warning sign that your relationship could be heading toward trouble. The encouraging news is the Gottmans have also come up with what they call antidotes to these negative patterns. These antidotes are strategies that have been designed to help you manage the conflict you have in order to strengthen your relationship instead of tearing it apart.

We’ll define each horseman, offer some examples on how to spot it, and share an antidote or remedy to how to respond to it. These horsemen may be new to your relationship or they may have been around a long time and may be deeply entrenched patterns of behavior. Either way, this information will be helpful for you. The information you’re about to read will be helpful however don’t expect miracles if you try to implement it in your relationship right away. Sometimes you need the expert guidance of a licensed mental health professional, such as those found at Great Lakes Wellness Counseling to help guide you through using this knowledge or give you a place and time to work through these things with your partner.

The Four Horsemen: Criticism, Contempt, Defensiveness & Stonewalling


Define it — attacking your spouse’s character or personality traits. This is different from sharing dissatisfaction with or concern about specific patterns of behavior because criticism strikes at the core of the person’s identity.

How to spot it — these statements often feel like very personal attacks. It will likely lead to contempt. Contempt is dangerous for a relationship! It’s the #1 predictor of divorce.

The antidote —use a gentle start-up, it helps protect both of you from feeling either attacked or defensive. Complain but don’t blame. Use “I” statements instead of “You” statements. Describe what is happening but don’t judge. Be polite when responding and don’t keep score or store things up for later.


Define it — a much more severe form of criticism, contempt involves treating your spouse like they’re not worth your consideration or respect. These are long-term negative thoughts about your partner that make them feel as if you’re disgusted with them, make them feel talked down to, and as if you’re superior to them. It destroys psychological, emotional, and physical health.

A graphic showing a couple standing on either side of a fractured heart. Learn how a couples therapist in Grand Rapids, MI can help you address couples issues and communication. Search for couples counseling in Grand Rapids, MI or couples therapy in Jenison, MI today.How to spot it —You’ll want to spot this right away, as we mentioned before, contempt is dangerous for a relationship! It’s the #1 predictor of divorce if they use sarcasm toward you (not just a joke once in a while but as the primary method of how they treat you); name-calling, or mocking you most of the time. Contempt simply presented is “I’m better than you. And you are lesser than me.”

The antidote —in the short term you’ll need to talk about your feelings and your needs. When you do it’s best to avoid “you” statements or blaming. In the long term, you’ll need to learn to view your spouse as your ally, not your enemy. You’ll need to create a culture of fondness and admiration rather than disdain and destruction.


Define it —simply put this is self-protection in the form of blame or anger being given back toward the person who’s calling you out on a need that is not being met. You’re basically saying “the problem is you, not me.”

How to spot it — when you feel attacked and try to justify yourself or shift blame onto your partner. You may offer excuses rather than take responsibility for them. It’s a common reaction and generally easy to spot.
The antidote —taking personal responsibility for your action(s) in the conflict. Instead of blaming admit that you did something that contributed to the conflict. You’re both 100% at fault for the problem. Acknowledge your partner’s feelings and concerns. Ask clarifying questions to understand their perspective better.


Define it — when you withdraw emotionally or physically from the conversation, refusing to engage or address the issue. It’s often a way to not make the situation worse but it causes the person who is trying to share what they feel or solve the problem to feel ignored so they ramp up their efforts and thus the cycle continues. It can often show up during the pursue-avoid cycle of EFT.

How to spot it — someone who stonewalls well, generally unresponsive to what’s going on, tuning out, turning away, acting busy, or engaging in obsessive details about the conflict.

The antidote — Practice active listening and empathy. During the conversation, try reflecting on what you understand and showing genuine interest in resolving the issue.

In wrapping up, it’s essential for couples to grasp and tackle the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse—Criticism, Contempt, Defensiveness, and Stonewalling—to sustain a vibrant and robust relationship. These detrimental behaviors, highlighted by Drs. John and Julie Gottman, act as signals of impending issues within a relationship. Fortunately, by spotting these behaviors and utilizing Gottman’s countermeasures, couples can aim for more constructive exchanges and deepen their connection. Regardless of whether these behaviors are recent developments or longstanding habits, the advice offered can serve as a significant resource.

Start Working with A Couples Therapist in Grand Rapids, MI

A couple sits across from a person holding a clipboard. This could represent the support a couples therapist in Grand Rapids, MI can offer. Learn more about christian couples counseling near me or how a christian therapist in Jension, MI can help.  At Great Lakes Wellness Counseling, we are dedicated to assisting you in tackling these obstacles, providing seasoned guidance to enable you and your partner to cultivate a relationship grounded in mutual esteem, comprehension, and affection. Keep in mind, that although the process might demand dedication and persistence, the benefits of a durable and loving union are undoubtedly worthwhile. Start your therapy journey with a caring therapist by following these simple steps:

    1. Contact us or call (616)202-1910 for a free consultation.
    2. Get to know a caring therapist.
    3. Start improving the health of your relationship!

Other Therapy Services Offered by Great Lakes Wellness

Couples therapy isn’t the only service that our team offers. Our therapists can provide diverse services based on your specific needs. We specialize in Christian counselingmen’s counselingwomen’s counseling, and child therapy. We also offer assistance for teen anxietydepression, and grief as well. Please feel free to visit our blog for more support today.