The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse Part One: Criticism

Part One begins a four-part series on what John Gottman* called “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.” Each of the “Horsemen” are negative behaviors within marriage that are particularly corrosive in nature and even help predict how likely a marriage is to survive.

It is not uncommon or even unhealthy for spouses to argue. The manner in which a couple argues, however, makes a big difference in the quality of their friendship and, consequently, their marriage. While most marriages will experience “The Four Horsemen” to some degree, it is those marriages that have a high degree of one or more Horsemen that are most at risk. We begin with Criticism.

Criticism is any statement that suggests that there is something globally wrong with your partner. It is an attack on one’s overall character as opposed to a valid complaint about specific behaviors. The words “you always” or “you never” signal the beginning of a criticism.

There is nothing wrong with a valid complaint. For example, a complaint might be something like, “I’m upset that you promised to give the kids a bath but you didn’t.” This complaint can easily be transformed into a criticism by adding, “What is wrong with you?” or “Can’t you ever just do what I ask?”

There are a whole set of questions that really aren’t questions at all. Adults often ask children these questions and they are actually insults. “Why are you so slow?” “Why are you so clumsy?” “Why are you so inconsiderate?” “Why are you so self-centered?” Or, to turn a complaint into a criticism, simply add “you never” or “you always.”

Criticism naturally puts your partner on the defensive and feeds into a destructive cycle. Defensiveness is the second Horseman we will explore in Part Two.

*Credit to The Marriage Clinic, by John Gottman

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