+ DPRR: Conflict Resolution

Stay Clear of the “4 Horsemen” to Thrive as a Couple

How skilled are you at resolving conflict with your significant other? Relationship experts have spent decades researching the differences between thriving couples and unhappy couples. Couples that fail to thrive often have interactions that include one or more of what relationship expert Dr. John Gottman, founder of The Gottman Institute, calls “the four horsemen of the apocalypse”: criticism, defensiveness, stonewalling and contempt.

  1. Criticism: you attack your partner, not the behavior
  2. Contempt: you mock your partner using sarcasm and ridicule to hurt them
  3. Defensiveness: you use excuses or play the innocent victim often as a response to criticism
  4. Stonewalling: you withdraw or shut down usually as a response to contempt

The best shot at being successful in avoiding “the four horsemen” is to first know what you’re up against. When conflict comes up, humans are wired to fight, flee or freeze. Our bodies take over and we end up facing challenging conversations with loved ones full of adrenaline that inhibits thinking. This is the reason we either shut down and withdraw or lash out and say and do things we regret. None of this is good for our connection.

How to avoid the ugly 4:

  • When things start escalating, take a few deep breaths to help calm your mind and body.
  • Remind yourself this is an important moment and you want to bring your best self.
  • Keep the conversation objective by stating the facts without judgement
  • show that you are putting in effort; and
  • Work together; you are a couple and need to work as a team to resolve conflicts.

How we treat one another daily also helps in moments of conflict. Here are some things you can do to feed your relationship:

  • Express gratitude in the way your partner best receives it (words, notes, gestures, gifts, etc.).
  • Experience positive emotions together, like joy, serenity and amusement.
  • Savor the good moments by being truly and deeply present.
  • Cultivate authentic connection by being clear about what you want, need, and feel.
  • Spot and celebrate the strengths you see in one another.


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