The Four Things Couples Should Avoid in a Fight

After years of research studying thousands of couples, Dr. John Gottman found a pattern in the way couples fight. Gottman discovered four behaviors that were the most destructive when couples were in conflict. In fact, Gottman found that the married couples who enacted these four particular behaviors were the most likely to become separated or divorced. As a result, Gottman coined these behaviors the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse as they were the strongest predictors of the apocalypse of relationships…divorce. Avoiding the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse can be the start to improving how to deal with conflict in your relationship.


  • Criticizing your partner implies that there is something wrong with their character. Criticizing your partner by using words such as “always” or “never” are often the most divisive. Instead of criticisms and “always” statements, try using “I” statements in which you focus on how you feel instead of what your partner did wrong in your eyes.


  • Even if your partner is placing blame on you, defensiveness is not the most helpful way to react. Instead of assigning yourself as the victim in the situation, try to take a moment to re-evaluate the aspects of the situation you can take responsibility for and try to listen to your partner’s perspective. Giving your partner the time and respect to try to understand their side of the story can make all the difference.


  • Contempt is when you behave in a way that invalidates their opinion and makes your partner feel that they are below you. Of all the horsemen, contempt is the most serious and can cause the most harm in an argument. Try to avoid rolling your eyes or making comments that evoke disgust. Instead, try to remember that respect is crucial in conflict.


  • Stonewalling is when a partner completely stops listening or engaging. An example of stonewalling could be when a partner completely leaves the room when in a conflict. Instead of shutting down, try as much as possible to stay engaged. The effort to stay present and work on hearing the other person can go a long way when in an argument.

"It is never too late to be what you might have been." ~ George Eliot