Mandy Kloppers

Four sins in relationships

According to John Gottman, there are four sins in relationships. These four major sins can destroy a good relationship. John Gottman refers to these four sins in relationships as the “four horsemen of the apocalypse”, in other words, with these sins present, your relationship will be unlikely to last:

The Four Horseman of the Apocalypse

John Gottman and his colleagues have shown that divorce can be predicted with 96% accuracy by identifying the presence of absence of the following four behaviors in a marriage. In marital therapy, these behaviors are pointed out, openly discussed, and alternatives are explored and practiced:

Criticism: Attacking your partner’s personality or character, usually with the intent of making someone right and someone wrong. For example:

  • Generalizations: “you always…” “you never…”“you’re the type of person who …”
  • “why are you so …”

ContemptAttacking your partner’s sense of self with the intention to insult or psychologically abuse him/her. Examples…

  • Insults and name calling: “bitch, bastard, wimp, fat, stupid, ugly, slob, lazy…”
  • Hostile humor, sarcasm or mockery
  • Body language & tone of voice: sneering, rolling your eyes, curling your upper lip

DefensivenessSeeing self as the victim, warding off a perceived attack

  • Making excuses (e.g., external circumstances beyond your control forced you to act in a certain way)
  • “It’s not my fault…”, “I didn’t…”
  • Cross-complaining: meeting your partner’s complaint, or criticism with a complaint of your own, ignoring what your partner said
  • Disagreeing and then cross-complaining “That’s not true, you’re the one who …”
  • Yes-butting: start off agreeing but end up disagreeing
  • Repeating yourself without paying attention to what the other person is saying
  • Whining “It’s not fair.”

Stonewalling: Withdrawing from the relationship as a way to avoid conflict. Partners may think they are trying to be “neutral” but stonewalling conveys disapproval, icy distance, separation, disconnection, and/or smugness

  • Stony silence
  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Monosyllabic mutterings
  • Changing the subject
  • Removing yourself physically

The Solution


Many wonderful marriages are discarded because their core value is lost in the midst of the battle.  Only after divorce, do the members look back and see the positives they have lost. If you have entered a process of marital therapy, or explicitly working on improving/saving your marriage, then you have accepted that the whole of the marriage is valuable enough to save. You have the opportunity to be clear about the positives of your marriage. You must also be objectively clear about the obstacles. Often there are incompatibilities that, with some commitment and effort, can be accepted, and accommodated, in order to save the marriage.


I recommend that you set a time period over which you will act as if your marriage is valuable and worth every ounce of your effort to improve and to save. Put off the question “should we be together” until the end of this time period.

Empathic Communication

Numerous studies show that effective communication promote relationship health. Healthy communication involves a balanced exchange of ideas, responsible expression of strong emotions, mutual empathy and acceptance. Maintaining balance and respect in communication is one of the greatest challenges to couples and each partner plays a central role. A method called reflective  listening is used.

Soft Start-up

The ability to respectfully and assertively communicate criticism and concern is key to a healthy marriage. Harsh, critical “start-ups” often set a negative tone that will be mirrored by the partner. And an opportunity for effective problem solving instead becomes a “fight.” Learning to catch yourself before giving criticism, and doing so effectively  is a key component of  healthy communication.

The Path to Friendship: Shared Goals for Mastery and Pleasure

An essential vehicle for establishing friendship in a marriage is having shared goals the partners work toward in tandem. These include practical goals, such as parenting, managing finances, running a household, managing difficult family relations. And in addition, we recommend that couples have share goals that forward the core of their marriage, for example, that forward shared pleasure and meaning, such as sexual intimacy, exercise, leisure activities, hobbies, travel, social/political causes, spiritual practice.

* Adapted from: Gottman, John & Silver, Nan (2000) The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work: A Practical Guide from the Country’s Foremost Relationship Expert; Christensen, Andrew (2002) Reconcilable Differences.

Mandy X