Communication Styles that May Kill a Relationship – Criticism, Contempt, Defensiveness and Stonewalling

Coummunication Styles That May Kill A Relationship


Dr. John Gottman has done tremendous research on couples and has found four patterns of communication that are particularly damaging. He calls them the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and they are criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling.  The good news is that we can all work on these ways of communicating and do better!  But first, let’s take a look so we know how they present in relationships.



Contempt is the one of these that is most likely correlated with divorce and involves name calling, eye rolls and overall expressions of disgust with the partner.   This style of communication may have roots in long-held resentments or bitterness against a partner and has its way of seeping into the relationship as a subtle (or not so subtle) way of giving this partner some feedback you’ve been wanting to give for a long time.



Criticism comes in the form of statements such as "you always..." or "you never..." and involves overgeneralizations that are not based on facts which are different from a complaint.  A complaint of a partner is simply based on fact and does not have the overgeneralized words such as always and never and is a healthier style of communication to express wants and needs.  Of course, the complaint is more helpful if it is followed up by a clear and kind request for change.



Defensiveness may happen when a partner feels criticized and is what it sounds like. A partner may make a complaint or perhaps a criticism and one may respond with "oh yeah, well YOU forgot to...".  While it may be natural for someone to respond defensively when being criticized, this is a style of communication that continues to make the problem even worse.



Finally, stonewalling is essentially disconnecting emotionally and may come in the form of silent treatment or conveniently “forgetting” to do something for a partner.  It could also be turning away with the excuse of “I’m just more tired than usual” when in reality you’re lacking the emotional bandwidth to engage in healthy communication with your partner.


Personal Reflections

My husband and I are huge fans of the Gottman Method.  While at times we slip into one of the 4 Horsemen, it’s much less frequent and we have really increased our efforts at repair attempts and a 5:1 positive to negative ratio, which is a topic for another blog post!


Making Healthy Changes

If you’re feeling stuck in an endless cycle of unhealthy communication or you want to learn more about how to incorporate Gottman Method into your own relationship, we can help.  Click here to be directed to our contact page and let us know how we can be of service to you in bettering your relationship!


Leave a Comment