Four Behaviors That Chip Away at Relationships, and How to Fix Them

Relationships and interpersonal connections are seminal to the human experience; love shapes, supports and inspires body, mind, and…

Relationships and interpersonal connections are seminal to the human experience; love shapes, supports and inspires body, mind, and soul. Romantic love is complicated and paradoxical in that it is a basic need, yet we are all wired for love differently. Research has shown that the happiness a person feels is in direct correlation to their most intimate relationships.

We all need tools and skills to manage the inevitable conflicts that arise in our romantic relationships. The research of relational science from marriage expert John Gottman has show there are 4 components that when experienced regularly in a couple lead to the demise of the relationship. He calls them the the 4 Horseman and they are explained below with their antidotes:


Speaking to your partner from a place of criticism only serves to point out flaws and defects. The communication is received as blame and shame, which feels like an emotional attack of rocket launchers.

Antidote: Instead, try a soft start; tell your partner how you feel, and explain what you are longing for or needing. This form of communication enables you to advocate for yourself and creates an opportunity for your partner to heal your unmet needs, ultimately drawing you closer together.


Contempt is displayed when communication is punctuated with sarcasm, disgust, judgement and/or a sense of superiority. Research has shown that contempt is the worst of the four horsemen and the number one predictor of divorce, yet it can be defeated.

Antidote: Eventually, you will need to build a culture of appreciation, empathy, and compassion your relationship, which strengths your relationship’s immune system. This can be done by working to do small, positive things for your partner every day.


Defensiveness is the habit of defending yourself at all costs. When defensiveness goes unchecked in a relationship, it breeds criticism and contempt.

Antidote: Don’t stay invested in the blaming or “I’m right, you’re wrong” pattern.
Accept responsibility for the role you play in each conflicting situation. Remember, it takes two. In healthy relationships, partners don’t get defensive when discussing an area of conflict.


Stonewalling means shutting down all verbal responses. In a discussion or argument, the listener withdraws from the interaction, shutting down and closing themselves off from the speaker because they are feeling overwhelmed or physiologically flooded. Metaphorically speaking, they build a wall between them and their partner.

Antidote: Learn ways to self-soothe when you begin feeling flooded with emotion or take a 20-minute break to de-escalate fights so that you can have a solution-focused conversation.

Understanding these tools and utilizing them require mindfulness. If you are interested in a more in-depth view of how to manage relational conflicts and create a secure, resilient couple bubble, please look up the following experts on relationships: John and Julie Gottman, Stan Tatkin, and Sue Johnson. Become a relationship master to avoid relationship disasters.