John Gottman's Four Horsemen and Antidotes: Couple Counselling #LewisPsychology

John Gottman's Four Horsemen and Antidotes: Couple Counselling #LewisPsychology

In this video I discuss Dr John Gottman’s Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and their antidotes. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse is actually a metaphor depicting the end of times. Gottman use this metaphor to describe communication styles that can predict the end of a relationship. John Gottan is an American psychological researcher and therapist. He is known for his work on relationship analysis through scientific direct observations, many of which were published in peer-reviewed journals. Gottman can predict relationship failure with over 90% accuracy and has researched relationships for over 40 years.


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0:00 Introduction
0:54 Criticism
2:03 Contempt
3:18 Defensiveness
4:12 Stonewalling
5:25 Introducing the antidotes
6:14 The antidote to criticism
6:59 The antidote to contempt
7:45 The antidote to defensiveness
8:17 The antidote to stonewalling
9:51 Summary


The first and most common horsemen is criticism. Being critical is often the expression of pent-up, unresolved anger. Criticism is different from a complaint. A complaint focusses a specific issue, but criticism is an attack on your partner’s personality or character. Criticism often starts with the word ‘You’. Criticisms also tend to be generalisations as you’ll frequently hear phrases such as “You never” or “You always”. Criticism can have devastating effects because it makes the victim feel attacked, rejected and hurt. The problem with criticism is that, when it becomes prevalent it actually opens the door for the other horsemen. The antidote for criticism is to use a soft or gentle start-up. Avoid using ‘you’ statements such as “you did …” which feel like an attack and indicate blame, and instead talk about your feelings using “I” statements and express what you need in a positive way.


When we communicate with contempt we we treat others with disrespect, call them names, throw insults and use body language such as eye-rolling and sneering. With this horsemen you’re basically throwing insults into the heart of your partners sense of self and when we communicate in this way the person on the receiving end is made to feel worthless. According to Gottman, contempt is the single greatest predictor of a relationship breakdown. He has even referred to contempt as sulphuric acid for love as its the most destructive of the four horsemen. The antidote to contempt is to build a culture of appreciation and respect in your relationship, and there are a few ways to do that such as expressing appreciation, gratitude, affection, and respect for your partner.


The third horseman is defensiveness which is typically a response to criticism or contempt. The fact that defensiveness is an understandable reaction to criticism or contempt is one reason it’s so destructive. But defensiveness tends to escalate a conflict rather than resolve it. The Antidote to Defensiveness: Take Responsibility even if only for part of the conflict.


Stonewalling occurs when the listener withdraws from the interaction, they shut down and stop talking. Metaphorically they are building a wall between them and their partner. Stonewalling is a result of feeling physiologically flooded so when we stonewall, we’re not in a physiological state where we can discuss things rationally. The antidote to stonewalling is to practice physiological self-soothing, and the first step of self-soothing is to stop the discussion. Break for least twenty minutes because it will take that long before your body physiologically calms down. Spend your time doing something self-soothing such as listening to music, playing a video game, going for a small walk or reading. It doesn’t really matter what you do, as long as you find it soothing.


Teresa Lewis is the founder and Director of Lewis Psychology and a Senior Accredited psychotherapist with the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (MBACP Snr. Accred). Qualified in 1995, Teresa has been providing counselling and psychotherapy treatment for nearly 30 years. Teresa holds a masters degree in counselling and psychotherapy and is a qualified EMDR Practitioner having completed training accredited with EMDR Europe. Teresa is also a qualified adult educator and an accredited Mindfulness teacher As a recognised expert in her field Teresa is frequently asked to conduct editorial reviews and endorse counselling and psychotherapy books for international publishing houses.

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  1. I think you really have the gift of explaining things in such a way they resonate with me immediately.
    One viewer at a time you make a better world

  2. Absolutely excellent explanation of the four horsemen and the antidotes!!! You have a gift for teaching! I understand it much better the way you explained it. Thank you so much! This information is vital for peace and happiness in this world! And it can help us all to become more self aware. I’ve been practicing this in all my relationships and I have noticed how much it helps when I use a gentle start up when I have to say something about a situation I don’t like. It seems to help when interacting with people with emotional problems too. Have you had success communicating with people with NPD or narcissistic traits using the four horsemen antidotes?

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