4 Horsemen of the Marriage Apocalypse (The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work Chapter 2)

Communication between married people is a reflection of what is happening in the relationship. Jesus said, ‘Out of the heart the mouth speaks.’ And Gottman reminds us of just how true this is when it comes to married life.
Gottman says that marriage do not fail because married people argue. Marriages fail because of HOW married people argue.
The first 4 indicators of a problem in communication (and a problem with the marriage) are what Gottman calls the 4 horsemen.
Horseman #1. Criticism
Gottman makes a clear distinction between a complaint and criticism. A complaint addresses a specific failure. A criticism attacks the character or personality of the other. Instead of dealing with a specific issue in the marriage, the criticism attacks the other person. The favorite question of criticism is this: What is wrong with you?
Horseman #2. Contempt
Contempt is disgust towards the other. It takes the form of cynicism, sarcasm, and mockery. Gottman calls this “the worst of the four horsemen” and says it is “poisonous to a relationship because it conveys disgust.”
In fact, if you want to guarantee that you will not solve problems in your marriage, just add contempt to any conversation and it will make things worse. When contempt comes out, Gottman says, it is “fueled by long-simmering negative thoughts about the partner.”
Horseman #3. Defensiveness
Defensiveness escalates conflict because the person who is defensive is really launching a counterattack. They are saying, “It’s not me, it is you.”
Horseman #4. Stonewalling
Stonewalling is not merely avoiding a fight, it is avoiding the marriage altogether. Instead of engaging the partner and working things through, the stonewaller simply avoids the relationship and refuses to take part in it. Stonewalling is the result of a constant cycle of the other three problems and usually arrives later in marriage.

These 4 problems are so deadly because they are the result of hearts that have hardened toward each other. The patterns of failed communication are the result of the heart’s negativity. Criticism is the result of a judgmental and fault finding heart that will not work through issues with their spouse. Contempt is a result of anger and bitterness that has grown to consume the marriage. Defensiveness and stonewalling are the result of a heart that does not want to solve problems and doesn’t care enough to work on them.
What comes out of the mouth is from the heart. Jesus once said that God allowed Moses to give a certificate of divorce because of the hardness of their hearts. But, Christian hearts should be able to work through problems and refuse to fall into patterns of hard hearted criticism, anger, bitterness, contempt, attacking, and counterattacking.
To fight off what Gottman calls the 4 Horsemen (of the Marriage Apocalypse), we have to constantly pull up the weeds. Whenever and wherever we see a critical spirit develop toward our spouses we must yank it out. Whenever we see weeds of anger and bitterness sprout, we must ruthlessly destroy them. Any time we wish to counterattack or avoid, we have to fight to remove them.
This is not a one-time event. We must constantly search our hearts and evaluate our thoughts and feelings toward our marriage. And then we must make every effort to replace the negative with committed love.


Leave a Reply