The Four Horsemen of Gottman’s Method

We’re thrilled to invite Dr William Bumberry back for the Level one training in the Gottman method. An incredibly successful treatment method for couples…
Written by Poppy S.
4 horsemen


You may know the four horsemen as the biblical metaphor for the ‘end of time’; conquest, war, hunger and death. The Four horsemen that we are referring to here are those of a relationship: criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling.
This is a concept conceived by the renowned couples researchers and therapists John and Julie Gottman, and it plays an essential role in their method of couples’ therapy. If the four horsemen of a relationship are not addressed, the Gottman’s are able to predict the failure rate of each relationship with 90% accuracy – if that doesn’t show you how important they are then I don’t know what does!
The four horsemen don’t have to be a deal breaker. If you can identify, acknowledge and work through them with your couple clients, you are right on track to realigning their relationship and overcoming immense hurdles, even infidelity! Keep reading to find out more.

Who are the Gottman’s?

For over 40 years Drs John and Julie Gottman, a married couple themselves, have been researching thousands of couples, from which they were able to create a highly successful and empirical method of couple’s therapy. They co-founded the Gottman institute in 1996 as a place where their combined expertise currently trains other clinicians, helps couples and shares the resources they have created.

Who is William Bumberry?

Dr Bill Bumberry is a licensed psychologist and certified Gottman therapist with over 25 years of experience, 20 of those specialising in couples’ therapy. We are delighted to welcome him back to Psychotherapy Courses where he has already led a number of successful training courses on the Gottman method. Click here to find out more!

Training with William Bumberry

In April 2025, William Bumberry will be joining us again for the first level training in the Gottman method and you won’t want to miss this one! You must complete your first level Gottman training to progress onto the next.
In the first level training, not only will you learn how to address the four horsemen (outlined below) with your couple clients, but you will also use numerous other highly effective techniques such as the sound relationship house theory.
The Gottman method is a cutting-edge technique which sees incredible clinical results, so be sure to book your place now to avoid missing out on the limited availability. Keep reading for a teaser of what to expect.
If you have already completed your first level training, click here to find out about our second level training course happening later this year. We will also be hosting a third level course which you can learn more about here.

A further look at The Four Horsemen:

So, what are the four horsemen and how do they impact a relationship?


Criticism, not to be confused with complaint, paves the way for the other three horsemen. Whilst a complaint is a totally acceptable way to communicate in a relationship, when a poorly constructed complaint becomes an attack on one partner’s character, it becomes a criticism. It can lead the victim of the criticism to feel rejected and hurt. Often patterns of complaint escalate, becoming more frequent and damaging. This can lead to contempt.


Contempt is considered the most dangerous and toxic of the horsemen. Often, we will see contempt in more established relationships. It is defined as a feeling of moral superiority which grows over time. It’s a mindset which can manifest into disrespect, mockery, sarcasm and name calling, as well as physical responses such as eye-rolling. Victims of contempt are left feeling despised and worthless. Contempt can even weaken the immune system leaving both members of a couple more susceptible to illness.


We often see defensiveness as a response to criticism. It comes about when one half of a couple feels attacked or unjustly accused of something. Defensiveness can go one of two ways. Either a counterattack in which reverse blame is used and no responsibility is taken by the defensive party. Alternatively, by playing the innocent victim, the defensive party will take on the entirety of the responsibility but often using a sarcastic manner.


Stonewalling is often used as a direct response to contempt. In some cases, the other three horsemen become so overwhelming that stonewalling is actually an understandable ‘out’. Stonewalling is when someone is physically present with their partner but mentally and verbally withdrawn from any interaction. This disinterest can be expressed through body language, such as turning away from the partner, or through behaviours such as acting busy or engaging in obsessive and distracting activities.

The Antidote to the Four Horsemen:

Whilst the presence of these behaviors may make a relationship seem doomed, John and Julie Gottman have four key antidotes to help it get back on track.

Antidote for criticism:

Rather than criticising their partner, one should talk about their own feelings using “I” statements. This will allow them to state their needs in a way that is gentler and without personally attacking their partner. As observed by the Gottman’s, this is much more likely to elicit a better reaction in response.

Antidote for contempt:

To overcome contempt in a relationship, a culture of appreciation must be built. Both members must treat each other with respect and focus on the positives in the relationship; mindfulness practices can be very useful here.

Antidote for defensiveness:

Rather than being defensive both members of a couple should accept responsibility for their actions. In some cases, this may just be part of the responsibility and in others it could be full responsibility. By doing this, it shows the other that they are being listened to; often it is the best way to diffuse a situation and welcome more productive conversation.

Antidote for stonewalling:

One of the best ways to stop stonewalling is to simply take a 20+ minute break from the situation to calm down. If one can recognise their limits when they feel emotionally flooded by staying aware of what their body is telling them, they will know when they need to have a break from a conversation and come back when they are feeling more equipped to deal with it.

The main event:

If you want to know how you can expertly implement the antidotes to the four horsemen in therapy, join William Bumberry this April online. Click here to find out more.

Other courses you may like:

If you want some background before the main event, why not try this on-demand course in which William Bumberry teaches how to work through cases of infidelity using the Gottman method.
If you have already completed level one Gottman training check out our level two and level three courses.

Written by Poppy S.
February 23, 2024
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