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Communication in Relationship - The 4 Horsemen of Relationship Destruction: What They Are?

Communication is crucial for the success and health of any relationship, whether love, friendship, or professional. It is the basis upon which trust, comprehension, and closeness are established.  Types of relationships, Healthy relationships, Building relationships, Relationship advice, Long-distance relationship, Relationship problems, Intimate relationship, Relationship goals, Communication in relationships, Trust in relationships, Maintaining relationships

Jatin and Ananya have been dating for a few months. They both lead busy lives with very demanding jobs, due to which, they often struggle to take out time for each other. They planned to meet for dinner one evening. Ananya was feeling overwhelmed after a particularly hard day at work. She preferred to keep her sentiments and fears to herself rather than expressing them, hoping Jatin would understand.

Meanwhile, Jatin was looking forward to their dinner date but was oblivious to Ananya's emotional state. Ananya appeared distant and uninterested as they sat at the restaurant. He noted her behaviour but was hesitant to inquire as to what was wrong, figuring she simply didn't want to spend time with him. Their conversation felt forced throughout the meal, and they struggled to connect. In this case, a lack of communication led to misunderstanding and a tense situation.

Communication is crucial for the success and health of any relationship, whether love, friendship, or professional. It is the basis upon which trust, comprehension, and closeness are established. Effective communication entails not just expressing oneself but also actively listening to and comprehending the viewpoint of the other person. Empathy, patience, and a willingness to be vulnerable are required. When both partners place an emphasis on open and honest communication, they build a strong and robust relationship that can weather adversities and prosper in the long run. Therefore, if there is a lack of communication in a relationship or the partners use destructive communication patterns, it can lead to many misunderstandings and conflicts in a relationship.


A research found that poorer communication predicted more negative affect, more expressive suppression, and less relationship satisfaction. In addition, it also confirmed that lower relationship satisfaction predicted greater instances of expressive suppression. These findings imply that couples who are experiencing distress in their relationship may have problems rooted in miscommunication, suggesting that improving communication could help resolve this distress.

Miscommunication is frequently the source of conflict in relationships. Several misunderstandings can emerge when couples fail to adequately comprehend each other's intentions, desires, and feelings, creating a fertile foundation for conflict. Individuals may make assumptions about their partner's ideas, feelings, or intentions in the absence of explicit communication. These assumptions may be incorrect, which can add to the conflict. Miscommunication can also cause feelings of irritation, rage, or despair. When partners fail to convey their feelings properly or fail to understand each other's emotional states, these emotional reactions can exacerbate and aggravate disagreements.

Let us have a look at some of the destructive communication patterns, that can seriously affect a relationship:-

The Four Horsemen - Toxic Styles of Communication in Relationships

Dr. John Gottman proposed the "Four Horsemen" idea to illustrate toxic communication patterns that can destroy relationships. When one or more horsemen become our patterned response, the intensity of unhealthy communication styles increases and ultimately harms our relationship. These tendencies are frequently regarded as markers of discontent and probable relationship collapse. The Four Horsemen are as follows:

  1. Criticism: Criticism entails directly attacking your partner's character or personality rather than addressing a specific behaviour or issue. It frequently involves broad negative remarks and generalisations. Criticism can make the other person feel attacked, defensive, and devalued, which can lead to more conflict. For example: "You never listen to me”, You're always so self-centred” or “You are only concerned about yourself."

  2. Defensiveness: It is a reaction to perceived criticism or attacks in which you reject responsibility and blame your spouse. It frequently entails making justifications, acting as the victim, or counter-attacking. Defensiveness stifles problem-solving and intensifies disputes. For example: "It's not my fault; you're the one who screwed up," or “You always blame everything on me.

  3. Contempt: Contempt is defined as a sense of superiority, disrespect, and scorn for your companion. It extends beyond criticism to include mocking, sarcasm, and belittling. Contempt undermines the foundation of respect and creates a destructive dynamic in the partnership. For example: Rolling your eyes, insulting your partner's opinion, or stating something like "You're such a moron." or “I still can't believe I'm with you.".

  4. Stonewalling: Stonewalling occurs when one individual emotionally withdraws from an interaction, shutting down and refusing to communicate. Silence, avoiding eye contact, or physically leaving the conversation are all examples. Stonewalling obstructs resolution and makes the other person feel unheard and devalued. Ignoring your partner's attempts to speak, giving the silent treatment, or physically walking away during an argument are all examples of this.

These Four Horsemen are said to be harmful to relationships because they impede effective communication, destroy trust and emotional connection, and contribute to a negative cycle of conflict. To foster a happy and successful relationship, it is critical to recognise these tendencies and work on replacing them with healthier alternatives.

According to Dr. Gottman's research, the existence of the Four Horsemen, particularly when they become chronic and persistent, can strongly predict relationship dissatisfaction and divorce. Developing constructive communication patterns and correcting these detrimental behaviours is therefore critical for maintaining a healthy and fulfilling relationship. But this also brings us to another question:-

Is Conflict/Argument in a Relationship Always Bad?

Conflict is a necessary and healthy element of any relationship, and its existence does not always signal a disturbed one. In reality, healthy disputes can create opportunities for partners to grow, learn, and improve their bonds. The way partners handle and manage problems can affect how healthy their relationship is overall. Constructive communication skills, such as active listening, quietly expressing needs and concerns, and employing "I" statements, can all contribute to healthier, more effective relationships.

Therefore, if the partners identify the ‘four horsemen’ and learn on replacing them with healthier alternatives, they can truly benefit from the conflicts of their relationships and use them, to take their relationship to the next step. When addressed constructively, arguments can be important and beneficial in a partnership. Here’s how:

  • Promoting understanding and mutual growth: Arguments allow persons in a relationship to communicate their differing opinions, concerns and wants, which promotes growth and understanding. Partners can get a better knowledge of each other's opinions, values, and boundaries through deliberate and courteous arguments. This encourages personal development and broadens their understanding of one another, resulting in a stronger bond.

  • Understanding and respecting boundaries: It is critical to understand and respect each other's boundaries during confrontations in order to prevent engaging in damaging or disrespectful behaviour. This involves avoiding personal assaults, derogatory language, and stonewalling. Even when disputes happen, healthy confrontations include retaining respect and treating one another with care.

  • Conflict resolution: Disagreements are unavoidable in any relationship. Arguments help couples to address difficulties and work towards resolutions when approached with respect and openness. Couples can discover underlying concerns, find common ground, and seek mutually agreed solutions by engaging in healthy debate and discussing their differences.

  • Improving communication skills: Constructive arguments necessitate good communication skills such as attentive listening, clear expression, and empathy practice. Arguing allows couples to hone these skills, which improves their general communication in the relationship. They learn to communicate their thoughts and emotions more effectively and to listen more effectively, improving the overall quality of their communication.

  • Building deeper trust: When couples can argue in a healthy way, it shows trust and respect for each other's beliefs and feelings. Openly expressing and working through conflicts develops a partnership setting of trust and safety. Partners learn to express themselves honestly without fear of being judged or rejected.

  • Compromise and Effective Problem Solving: Arguments can provide an opportunity for creative problem-solving and compromise. When both partners are willing to listen, comprehend, and establish a common ground, they can reach solutions that address both persons' concerns and needs. This fosters a sense of teamwork and collaboration, which helps to develop the relationship.

  • Catharsis: Arguments can be used as a release valve for pent-up emotions and frustrations. Individuals can experience catharsis by voicing their opinions and worries during an argument. It enables people to release negative feelings, resulting in a healthier mental state and a reduction in resentment or passive-aggressive behaviour.

It is critical to remember that arguments should be treated with respect, patience, and a goal of finding solutions rather than winning. Destructive communication patterns, which include yelling, personal assaults, or dismissive behaviour, can be damaging to a relationship. On the other hand, arguments when handled constructively, can contribute to growth, understanding, and a greater connection between couples leading to a more healthy and fulfilling relationship.

Having said this, handling arguments constructively can be a challenge sometimes. Hence, if you and your partner are stuck and are not able to develop effective communication patterns in your relationship, consider seeking out couples therapy as a way to begin to understand the hindrances and eventually overcome them. A qualified professional can guide you to find solutions for these hindrances and help you in kickstarting this journey of well-being in your relationship. We, at MentAmigo, understand the need for the comfort and safe space that you may be looking for, to rediscover yourself, and ignite the conversation with yourself and your partner. Consider checking out our services and finding a therapist that’s right for you.




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