We are in one of the most exciting times in history, for the first time we have a research-based
understanding and specific ingredients that every couple can use to build a strong marriage relationship.
Secondly, we can say for certain the kinds of relational patterns that leads inevitably to the death of the
Increasingly, it is becoming more of a choice to live in an unfulfilling marriage.
Today we will be considering the four communication patterns that spell doom for any relationship,
when one or at least two of them become the predominant way a couple relates with each other.
John Gottman and his colleagues used these parameters to do a clinical test involving 1000 newlyweds.
After an oral interview, the researchers asked that each of the couples discuss an area of an ongoing
conflict in their marriage for 15mins.
After listening to them and identifying the communication patterns they used, they were able to predict
to an astonishing 94% accuracy those that will go on to have a fulfilling relationship and those whose
marriages will fail (divorce or isolation) over a six-year period. They named these communication
patterns ‘the four horsemen of the apocalypse’.
These four patterns are; Criticism, Defensiveness, Contempt, Stonewalling
Criticism; According to the dictionary criticism is ‘the expression of disapproval of someone or
something on the basis of perceived faults or mistakes’. The focus of the problem is moved from
complaining/ talking about the action to complaining about the person.
Criticism is unhealthy because it is suggesting that there is something wrong with the person. I know
that we have heard consistently about constructive criticism, there is no such thing as constructive
criticism, criticism is criticism and it does not produce the required result of change or growth most
times, instead, it makes the recipient of the criticism angry and then defensive.
Criticism includes disapproval and fault finding, it is naming the person after their character.
Dale Carnegie in his book ‘how to win friends and influence people says;
‘criticism is futile because it puts a person on the defence and usually it makes them try to justify
themselves. Criticism is dangerous because it wounds a person’s pride, hurts his sense of importance
and arouses resentment
An example is, ‘you never help me with the dishes. The use of the word ‘never’ (a universal
generalisation) is saying there hasn’t been one time in which the person offered to help or actually
helped with the dishes. The word ‘never’ and ‘always’ if used in a negative context, will automatically set
the person you are communicating with into a defence mode because you are saying that this thing is
not in the person’s character and have never done it in his/her life which is not true.
Criticism is a direct attack on the person and you will often not get the required result, very rarely do
people change because they were criticised.
From above ‘you never help me with the dishes, should be; ‘I’d love it if you help me with the dishes in
the mornings. Now that just moves it from being a personality problem to being a need that can be
The aim is not to stop partners from speaking of their negative feeling but to ensure that it is properly
channelled to the behaviour and not the person.
To be continued…