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Ever heard of the 4 deadly relationship killers?

The 4 horsemen and their antidotes

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you felt blindly in love with someone, swept off of your feet, on cloud nine but gradually as time passes by you find yourself questioning your feelings for this person, you don't feel the same level of excitement, your relationship with your partner seems to fade away like the sound of a distant siren, and you are overcome by a sense of confusion as to why this is happening? If so, this blog is for YOU.

Gottman's research identified 4 relationship killers that slowly erode relationships, he named them the 4 horsemen: criticism, defensiveness, stonewalling, and contempt. These 4 horsemen pop up a lot during conflict, but can become a part of how we communicate with our partners on a daily basis as well. Awareness is the first step to tackling these, and we've gone ahead to mention the antidote for each. Read on with an open mind and heart.


It is attacking a person's character. You are critiquing your partner as a whole rather than a particular action or behaviour. Let us look at an example for criticism: "You always talk about yourself, your career, your problems. Why are you so selfish?"

Antidote for it would be a soft, gentle start-up i.e., to complain without blame. A good example is the use of 'I statements'. The antidote to the above example could look like "I am feeling left out in our conversation. We’ve talked about your life and I feel a need to vent so can we please talk about my day now?"


This comes from a position of moral superiority e.g.: eye-rolling, mockery, sarcasm and so on.

Antidote Building a culture of appreciation and respect in your relationship is the antidote to contempt, and there are a few methods to do so. The first one is ‘Small things often’ i.e. showing appreciation, gratitude, respect etc. regularly to create a positive perspective within the relationship.

Another method that will help you is the 5:1 “magic ratio” of positive to negative interactions that a relationship must have to succeed. When five or more positive exchanges for every one negative interaction, you are making regular deposits into your emotional bank account thereby keeping the relationship in the green. In this antidote, you can start the statement with a respectful request and end it with a statement of appreciation. For example: In a scenario where your partner forgets to do the dishes, you could say "I understand you have been really busy but if you could remember to wash the dishes while I am working late it would be really appreciated."


Victimizing yourself to ward off a perceived attack and reverse the blame. The antidote for this is to accept responsibility. Defensiveness could make your partner feel blamed thereby escalating the problem. Defensiveness could sound like "It ain't my fault I yelled, you were late."

Antidote Taking responsibility could help you rephrase it into "I really don't like being late but maybe I should be a little more flexible about it and not leave so early". This way the partner is taking responsibility for their role in their conflict yet communicating that they do not like to be late. This way the couple can come to a compromise.


Withdrawing to avoid conflict and not responding to the partner. This happens when we feel flooded with emotions and we end up shutting down or disengaging from the situation.

Antidote Learn physiological self-soothing. The first step to do so would be to take a timeout. The break should at least last 20 min for your body to calm down while you carry out soothing activities like listening to music, reading or exercising.

Notice yourself falling prey to any of these villains in your relationship? Do not worry, now that you are aware of the Four Horsemen and how to deal with them using their antidotes you can gradually work on these skills that will help you combat conflicts and unhealthy behaviours within your relationship. Not sure how to do so? Well, one way is to have a pact with your partner to never let them creep into your relationship. Easier said than done but worth the try. Another is to stop and recognize and call out what's happening and try out the antidote. Fending off these 4 horsemen could go a long way in building a healthy, nurturing relationship. If you need more help, please reach out to us for professional help in the form of couple counseling or individual therapy.


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