Dating in today’s technology-driven world can be hard enough already. Sometimes, however, people’s habits and behaviors are really what can make a relationship all the more challenging.

Once you finally get into a relationship with someone you like, the honeymoon period usually begins. At the end of it, the challenge is staying together. 

According to psychologist Dr. John Gottman, four things can have such an impact on a couple that they can end their relationship. Gottman named the four communication styles as the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, named after the metaphor depicting the end of times. However, the last of the four, stonewalling, is the worst of them all.

So what are these Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse? Let’s get into that below.

The Four Horsemen


In a relationship, one partner is sometimes allowed to express a complaint to the other about specific issues. For instance, one might be “you usually send me a message when you reach home, but you didn’t this time. I was worried sick, and I thought something bad might’ve happened to you.”

However, criticizing a partner is not something that happens in a healthy relationship because it is an attack on the other’s character or feelings. For instance, a provocation like “you just went back home and got on with your day, how selfish can you be?” might be interpreted as “you didn’t even think to let me know you’re safe. You don’t care about me.”

While criticism is terrible and can lead to negative feelings, it’s not the worst of the four horsemen.


Criticism is bad, and it can hurt your partner. But contempt might be worse because it is just plain mean and disrespectful.

When a person is contemptuous of their partner, they think they are morally superior. They mock, ridicule, mimic words, call names, or do things that are disrespectful like eye-rolling. It can easily make the victim of the contempt feel worthless and depressed.

For instance, contempt in a relationship might sound like this: “You’re stressed out from all the work? Boo-hoo. I have made three meals for our kids, picked them up and dropped them at school, went to the PTA meetings, cleaned up the house, and did so much other work. You just bring your mess home and tell me you’re going out to the stupid bar with your stupid friends? You selfish jerk.”

Contempt is mostly powered by thoughts that were pushed deep down but suddenly surfaced because of a trigger – very much like turning on a switch.

While contempt is certainly not good, this still isn’t the worst of the four.


Defensiveness comes at number three, but it might be among the most common things in a relationship. People often get defensive in day-to-day arguments, and they don’t even realize it.

Mostly, defensiveness is a response to being unjustly accused of something. But instead of saying what happened and admitting the mistake, the accused ends up reversing the blame to make the other partner feel bad.

While the need to defend yourself is understandable, doing this may not necessarily have the effect you intend.


The final and, in our opinion, the worst of the four horsemen is stonewalling.

In stonewalling, the listener completely withdraws from the conversation or argument. They just shut down altogether and stop responding to anything. They don’t say what is wrong, what is on their mind, or what they wish would just happen. Instead, they might start acting busy, turn away, walk away, engage in distractive behaviors, or tune out.

Dr. Gottman notes that when a person is stonewalling, it’s because they are too “physiologically flooded”. He uses this term to describe the situation when anxiety shuts down your mind and makes it difficult to communicate.

Stonewalling can be so terrible that it might bring out a terrible rage in the person and even consume the partner who is stonewalling from the inside.

This horseman is very dangerous, which is why it is so important for someone who exhibits these behaviors to learn how to deal with stonewalling. For instance, one of the best ways to cope with stonewalling is to take a break between a heated discussion or an argument.

As an example, in the popular American sitcom How I Met Your Mother, two of the characters who are a couple have a simple strategy to cool things down when an argument gets too heated. Both of them simply say, “pause,” and they get back to normal life. When they are ready again, they simply say, “unpause.”

Do you agree with opinion that stonewalling is perhaps the biggest challenge to a healthy relationship? If so, what are your best strategies for dealing with stonewalling? Let us know in the comments below!