The second warning sign is actually a set of behaviors that Gottman has referred to as “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.” These 4 interactions have consistently predicted failure in marriages and so are to be avoided and eliminated at all cost in your relationship.
What are these four horsemen? Basically, these four markers can arise in escalating negative interactions. All couples get hostile with each other, but when the negativity escalates and is marked by the following four “horsemen,” it is a sign that your relationship is in trouble:
Criticism – partners who criticize each other and take personal attack on each other are in trouble. While it may be tempting to let your partner know how stupid they are at times, it is very damaging to your relationship. The best way around this is to complain, but don’t criticize. So, if your partner forgot to pick up that important grocery item, instead of letting them know how much of an idiot they are, let them know how you feel (disappointed? angry?) and feel free to complain about this mistake. It may not go over well, but it’s much better than calling them a stupid asshole. None of us like to be personally attacked, especially by the person who knows us better than anyone and is supposed to have our backs.
Defensiveness – look, at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter who is right and who is wrong. I’m guilty as charged and hate admitting when I’m wrong because it’s so rare (haha), but it’s something I’ve worked on. Let your guard down and be real with your partner. Take the wall down and don’t be so defensive.
Contempt – even the word itself is scary, it’s such an ugly feeling. This one is probably the trickiest of them all – how do you not feel contempt for someone if the contempt is there? There’s no easy solution here and contempt has been shown to be one of the most dangerous feelings in a relationship. If you are experiencing this in your relationship, this may be one sign to get help fast.
Stonewalling – this is when the wall goes up for one of you and you can’t reach the other person. When someone stonewalls you, it is agonizing. You can’t get in there and it feels like they don’t care. Stonewalling is really a way that your partner might be protecting himself. Granted, it’s not the best for your relationship, but just because you are getting a blank stare doesn’t mean he doesn’t care. In fact, Gottman and his colleagues have physiologically measured stonewalling partners who don’t let on that they’re feeling anything, and consistently found that despite appearing like they have no cares in the world, these partners have elevated blood pressure and pulses.