Types Of Bad Communication That Will Lead To Apocalypse In Your Love Life

Anyone who has read the New Testament will be familiar with the concept of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, a metaphor depicting the end of times. Dr. John Gottman, a world-renowned professor emeritus in psychology and founder of the Gottman Institute, has borrowed this metaphor and used it in the realm of relationships. His Four Horsemen represent Criticism, Contempt, Defensiveness, and Stonewalling:  bad communication styles that spell the end of a relationship.

These bad communication styles can spoil a relationship.
Bad communication can destroy a relationship.

These Bad Communication Styles Are Bad News For Relationships

Getting a better understanding of the four destructive styles of bad communication can help you diagnose and remedy them in your own relationship, thus enhancing your chances of personal happiness. Let’s see them one by one.


The first horseman in Gottman’s metaphor is Criticism. The main problem with Criticism is that it is hard to distinguish from someone’s just complaint or honest offering of an opinion. To illustrate this better, think of this example:

Complaint: “You made me feel awkward yesterday when you told your friends I’m a bad cook.”

Criticism: “You always embarrass me in front of your friends. You really have no manners.”

Telling someone how a specific behavior has made you feel is different to overgeneralizing and belittling them. To avoid criticism, make your complaints specific and to-the-point, rather than drawing on the past and making assumptions.


The second bad communication sign is Contempt. This is when a partner looks down on his/her significant other, mocking them, making fun of them and generally actively trying to make them feel insignificant and at fault.

This cannot go on for long, of course, as the partner who’s the victim of such a behavior soon gets offensive and the problems escalate quickly. In fact, through his research Dr.Gottman has found that contempt is the biggest predictor of divorce. Couples should try to fight off negative thoughts and feelings by discussing their issues as they appear, not letting them simmer inside.


Third comes Defensiveness: a desire to make up excuses for things we did or did not do when we are called to explain ourselves. A case in point is when your partner might ask you why you didn’t do the grocery shopping and you may respond “Why did you ask me to do it in the first place when you knew how busy today would be for me?”

A more sincere and less passive-aggressive response would be “I’m sorry honey, I completely forgot because I’m really snowed under today. Is it OK if I do it tomorrow?” Even though admitting to our mistakes might make us feel like we are being weak, in reality, it takes strength and confidence to simply admit you’ve made a mistake and trying to mend things.


The last horse of the Apocalypse, or bad communication sign if you prefer, is Stonewalling. As the word suggests, this is when a person builds a wall between himself and his partner, to effectively stop communication with them. Stonewalling occurs after the other bad communication styles have occurred, and it is more like a defense mechanism of a partner who no longer cares to improve things because they have, in essence, given up on the relationship altogether.

To avoid getting to this last point, a couple needs to address the issues emerging between them as soon as they are detected, rather than hope bad communication issues will go away themselves. As we have discussed before, good relationships are based on respect, sincerity and not brushing problems under the carpet.