Harsh Discussions Are Lethal to Marriage
Steven Craig Semones II - PCA-Intern


April 26, 2018

This topic made me go back to thinking about when I first proposed to my girlfriend. The feeling that I had when she said, “Yes!” This beautiful woman that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with had just accepted my proposal to spend the rest of our lives together. Now she is my fiancée. The look in her eye just gleamed with happiness because she couldn’t wait to be my bride. What amazed me is this young woman really wanted to spend the rest of her life with me, and trusted me to be a contributing partner through all the different phases of life. Then come the wedding day where I watched her walk down this long isle to stand with me before all of our friends and relatives. In front of all the witnesses we exchanged vows to love each other until death do we part. We promised to love each other through sickness and health, richer or poorer, and we promised to love and protect this marriage with our lives. Marriage is a long-term commitment that comes with much change and growth. It comes with challenges and how we navigate those moments are pivotal to our marriage.

There is a saying about how it isn’t what you say but how you say it that really makes the difference in effective communication. It is very easy to find ourselves letting lethal aspects of communication into the heart of our marriage. We can’t lose sight of what importance this marriage has within our lives. For context sake let’s look at these Four Horseman of the Apocalypse that were developed by Dr. John M. Gottman, Ph.D., professor of psychology at the University of Washington, cofounder and codirector of The Gottman Institute.  He developed these four horseman to show four types of negative communication that when brought into marriage can lead to major discord and even divorce. They normally rear their head in the following order: criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling. Let’s step back for a second and ask ourselves, “Are any of these horseman found in my marriage?”

 We are going to look deeper within each horseman to understand what each looks like within marriage. Before visiting each horseman, we must realize that these horsemen become present within our marriage because there is some unresolved conflict that is present.

1.     Horseman 1: Criticism

  • Complaint: This is a specific action that was failed. Vs Criticism: It adds more negative words about your spouse’s character and personality. (Adds blame and attacks the character of your spouse)
  • Example of Complaint: “Martha you said you would cook dinner every other night, but you didn’t do it tonight and it was your night.”
  • Example of Criticism: “Martha it isn’t like you had a hard day at work, it’s your night to make dinner, but I guess you were too lazy to do so!”     

2.     Horseman 2: Contempt

  • Sarcasm and cynicism are types of contempt. Ex. Name calling, eye-rolling, mocking your partner, and being hostile toward them.
  • This Horseman is the most lethal to a relationship because it only causes more conflict and isn’t moving toward reconciliation.
  • Hard to resolve any conflict with a spouse if you think they are disappointed with you to the point of disgust.
  • Example of Contempt: “Dave, let me guess you were about to take that trash out that is overflowing. That is why you are working hard on the recliner exercising that remote. You are husband of the year for sure!”

3.     Horseman 3: Defensiveness

  • Defensiveness escalates conflict because it is looked at as a way of blaming your spouse.
  • When you are defensive you are in essence telling your spouse, the problem is not me, but it is you.
  • Example of Defensiveness: James says, “It’s hard for me to stop and get your medicine tonight after work because I had an unexpected meeting come up with my boss that is urgent.” Instead of his wife being understanding about the problem that has been brought. She responds, “Oh it’s always a last-minute meeting or something that gets in the way of you helping me. I guess next time I need something. I will not ask you! Because you might have an unexpected meeting come up with your boss or a client!”

4.     Horseman 4: Stonewalling

  • This is normally the last horseman to show up and normally is present toward the latter parts of the marriage.
  • This normally comes out after a discussion has led to criticism and contempt that lead to defensiveness, which only leads to more contempt and defensiveness, and then one of the spouses start to tune the other one out.
  • This is not only sharing with the spouse that you are avoiding the fight but they see this as avoiding the marriage.
  • A stonewaller stops engaging and they become silent where no communication verbal or nonverbal is given.
  • Makes the other spouse feel that you do not care and what they say or feel doesn’t matter.


If you find yourself starting to have a breakdown in the communication of your marriage please do not let these horseman that are very lethal destroy your marriage. It is never too late and your marriage is always worth fighting for. If you would like one of our wonderful providers to come along side you to help walk with you and your spouse in this time of your life please feel free to reach out to Palmetto Counseling Associates. We will find the right provider that can help you fight for your marriage and eliminate these horseman from causing your marriage to be a place of turmoil and pain into a place of reconciliation and healing. Please reach out today either by calling (803) 254-9767 today or reaching out to set up an appointment on our website at www.palmettocounseling.com. You do not have to let harsh discussions be lethal in your marriage because if it goes unresolved it most likely will lead to divorce.