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Dr. Gottman states that these factors are:

1. Contempt – treating each other with contempt such as sarcasm, cynicism, name calling, eye rolling, mockery and hostile humor. 

2. Criticism – criticizing the character of the other person. 

3. Defensiveness – making excuses for our own failures and slip ups which we then use to blame our spouse. 

4. Stonewalling - a person withdraws from the conversation and acts very negatively.  They give you the silent treatment or ignore you.    

Communication Styles That Can Affect Divorce

Is it possible to predict divorce?  With 90% accuracy Dr. Gottman, Professor Emeritus in Psychology from the University of Washington, can predict whether or not a couple will divorce.  Dr. Gottman based his predictions on four factors which he called the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.  In the New Testament the Four Horseman metaphor is used to depict the end of times.  Dr.  Gottman uses this metaphor to describe the communication styles which can predict the end of the relationship.    

Dr. Gottman suggests that we can change the way we respond to our partners through four antidotes:

1. The antidote to Contempt is to respect the person.  For example, perhaps your spouse wants to go to the Cineplex for half price movie on Tuesday night but you are super busy.  Instead of using a sarcastic tone to tell your spouse that you can’t go, respect your spouse by saying something like, “I’ve got this project I am working on and am just too busy today.  Maybe next week?”

2. The antidote to Criticism is to use statements to describe your feelings instead of attacking the character of the person.  For example if your spouse is eating Ben and Jerry’s Cherry Garcia ice cream, but not sharing any with you, you might respond critically by telling your spouse that they are terribly selfish.  Instead, express your feelings by saying, “I would really like some ice cream – can I have a spoonful or is there enough left for me?”

3. The antidote to Defensiveness is to take responsibility for a problem.  If you forgot to pay the bills and it’s your responsibility, own up to it instead of saying, “I didn’t pay the Shaw bill because you forgot to remind me”.

 4. The antidote to Stonewalling is to take a break when the argument is too difficult, but plan to talk about the issue again after you’ve calmed down.  

For more info about Dr. Gottman’s rate of divorce prediction

For more detailed information about the “Four Horsemen” read John Gottman’s book The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, a New York Times bestseller with over one million copies sold.