While no relationship is perfect, it’s important to know how to navigate difficult conversations and situations. By recognizing and avoiding four specific types of negative interactions (dubbed the 'Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse' by Dr. John Gottman and Dr. Julia Schwartz Gottman), we can be better prepared to communicate fairly and effectively. This worksheet is designed to help us identify when negative or hostile language is being used in a relationship and suggests how to create productive discussions for you and your partner – or multiple partners in polyamorous relationships.
To criticize in relationships is to focus on the perceived flaws of our partner. Criticism is often centered around the word “you”, and leads to the feeling of being attacked or shamed. The Gottman’s refer to this as a “character assassination”.
Criticism can look like:
Criticism may not always seem harmful, but can often leave the other person feeling as if they need to defend themselves.
As an alternative to criticism, try:
Your turn! Think of a time that you have criticized your partner and use the space below to explore alternatives. When using any of the following “practice” sections, it can be helpful to start with situations that are less emotionally charged.
Defensiveness typically appears as a result of being criticized, as the individual feels like they need to support their criticized actions.
Defensiveness can look like:
Defensive reactions to criticism can be destructive, further escalate arguments, and rarely lead to a solution.
As an alternative to defensiveness, try:
Your turn! Think of a time that you were defensive towards your partner and use the space below to explore alternatives.
When someone is contemptuous, they put themself on a pedestal and actively feel as if they are superior or have authority over others. When we do this, it shows others we have a distaste for them or their actions, which can often lead to more conflict.
Contempt can look like:
Contempt creates challenges in any relationship, because it shows that we prefer to point out someone’s flaws rather than the things we enjoy about them. And furthermore, it prevents discussions that can lead to solutions.
Similarly to criticism, we can avoid contempt by:
Your turn! Think of a time that you had contempt towards your partner and use the space below to explore alternatives.
Stonewalling happens when we are physically present during an interaction, but also show signs that we are withdrawn from the conversation and no longer listening.
Stonewalling can look like:
Stonewalling tends to show our partner that we’re disinterested in what they’re saying, making them feel as if their point is not being heard or doesn’t matter.
DBT: Distress Tolerance Skills
DBT: Interpersonal Effectiveness
DBT Skills: Opposite Action
DBT Skills: Soothing Anxiety
DBT Skills: TIPP for Emotional Crisis
Gottman, J. H. & Gottman, J. S. (2017). Avoid the four horsemen for better relationships. The
Gottman Institute. https://pbrcoaching.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/Avoid-the-Four-Horsemen_2017.pdf