Communication Styles

The 4 Worst Styles of Communication

Hello, welcome to Episode 2 of BWBL, we are going to talk about the 4 worst styles of communication. I wanted to share with you another foundation for this podcast which is really going to be talking about Gottman method. One of the foundational principles of poor communication which Gottman calls The 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse. These are the most correlated with divorce. The 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse, this came from the Bible, Revelation meaning a lot of destruction can happen. 


The 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse

Criticism - Finding a way to attack your partner's character. It is perfectly fine to have a complaint, but when you blame and use words like always and never. Criticism takes a complaint a lot further and hurts our partners.

Defensiveness - Another form of blame, not taking ownership of one's own actions or response. One way to explain or rationalize without taking ownership. 

Stonewalling - This is a way of emotionally disconnecting from a relationship. The silent treatment.

Contempt - The most damaging of the 4 worst styles of communication, the most correlated with divorce. It is a lot of negativity towards your spouse. Come out as name calling, eye rolling, making fun of your spouse. A sense of humor that no one else finds funny. Cutting remarks towards your spouse. 


My criticism and your defensiveness

From my own marriage, this is something that Jake and I have worked on and have really appreciated. Jake and I found that criticism and defensiveness are the more common ones that we would do early on in our relationship and marriage. I think for me, I could see criticism and defensiveness in me, and Jake saw mostly defensiveness in himself.

Those are things that he and I have had to work on. We have used a lot of Gottman method to work on soft startup and 5:1 positive ratio, believing the best in each other and taking more ownership for our own words and actions. We will also go into detail about what to do when you are doing these things.

We all engage in some aspects of the 4 worst styles of communication, to an extent. As we work on being better wives or better partners, kinda work on recognizing these things as they come up in our relationships and start minimizing and eventually eliminating these things in our relationships. 


Plausible Deniability

In my work with clients, criticism and stonewalling are the main 4 Horseman that I see in my practice. It usually comes out as we are unable to take ownership. We feel wronged by the other person and so I see a lot of criticism and blame of the partner.  

Stonewalling, full blown silent treatment or things like that, we can look at as emotional disconnect. When your partner sleeps in another bedroom or is slow to respond in a text messages or taking phone calls. When a client doesn’t have very good insight on this, they call it a boundary. This can send mixed messages. If they are used to us sharing a bed, answering our messages quickly and then suddenly make this adjustment with this plausible deniability. I didn’t sleep well last night. Sorry, I got caught up with work. This plausible deniability the clients usually say they recognized this, and it is a boundary. I felt like he didn’t need to hear from me right away. I think that this is an emotional disconnect that we can put under stonewalling. 

 I don’t think that these things individually are a bad thing. I think that these should be a mutual decision and conversation between your partner and not coming off an argument. Context is important when it comes out of the blue and not within a clarifying discussion between your partner. Clients call it boundaries, but this becomes confusing to your partner. Again, criticism and stonewalling are the most common I see with my clients. 

 With such accuracy!

Gottman, initially did research in late 70’s and early 80’s. He would have couples come to an apartment for an entire weekend. They would be hooked up to things that would measure physiological responses like heart rate and temperature. They would have video cameras throughout the apartment. The partners would communicate during the weekend on various topics and knowingly some were hot topics for the couple.

They would really study the physiology of the partners throughout the conversations. All the researchers would go back and analyze the facial expressions and words they used. It is through this initial research he narrowed down the 4 styles of communications that lead to divorce. The couples that he studied for a long time and eventually got a divorce, they most often engaged in criticism, stonewalling, defensiveness and contempt.

 If you do not have access to a lot of research or articles, my favorite author is Malcolm Gladwell, and his book Blink, he refers to this study by Dr. Gottman. Dr. Gottman can predict divorce after just 15 minutes of observing a couple communicate with about 90% accuracy. That is just crazy! I just love this because it is based on research. From that research, he talks about contempt being the highest predictor of divorce. 

 Take ownership of your own contempt

Some encouragement would be to focus on contempt in your life with you partners, romantic relationships, coworkers and family members. Just notice, do you have a lot of negativity or resentment towards a person(s). Notice how it comes out in your body, facial expressions, body language, and when you are responding. Try to remove the contempt from your life.

There are many ways to communicate your concerns and emotions. I am not saying that you should feel positively towards everyone in your life, that isn’t realistic. But maybe there is a way you can start speaking up for how you feel or what you need. Taking ownership for things in your life. Learning how to have healthy conversations with people in your life. I totally recognize that a lot of people aren’t trying to have a healthy conversation with you. All you can do is take ownership for you. 

Have awareness of contempt for anyone in your life and if you show that in anyway. Try to reduce this contempt in your life. 

 We will continue to talk about the 4 Horseman in future episodes.

Help in the meantime: 

 YouTube channel BWBL playlist

Our blog

Gottman Institute Blog



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Ashburn, VA

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