4 Ways to Defeat Destructive Behaviors in Your Relationship

by | Feb 11, 2022

Conquest. War. Hunger. Death. These are the Four Horsemen of the apocalypse, the end of times.

If your romantic relationship feels apocalyptic, do not despair, there is an antidote to bring back the love! Fortunately, I am not a snake-oil salesman. The love potion I want to offer you is grounded in research and proven to work.

In psychology, the four horsemen are used as a metaphor to describe the destructive behaviors that lead to the end of relationships.


The Four Destructive Behaviors are:

  • Criticism
  • Defensiveness
  • Contempt
  • Stonewalling

Left unchecked, these classic behaviors are harmful and will eventually destroy your relationships.

However, embracing the antidotes of healthy communication skills and positive interaction will help you resolve conflict and rekindle positive thoughts and feelings towards each other.


The Antidote to Criticism

The first horseman, Criticism, is when people approach their problems with hurtful and judgemental language. People using criticism often focus on the other’s perceived shortcomings rather than behaviors that their partner can change. Unfortunately, the person being criticized will often react defensively, thus leading to further discourse.

“Our bank account is negative again; you can’t do anything right.”

The Antidote to this is a Gentle Start-Up, which means managing the issue in a loving, gentle way while focusing on the problem itself, not the person. It is vital to have the conversation that is time appropriate and works for both parties, using warm body language and a kind tone. Additionally, using “I” statements is also important because they are not accusatory.

“I feel frustrated when our account goes negative. Can we please come up with a budget together?”


The Antidote to Defensiveness

The second horseman, Defensiveness, is when the person wants to shift blame, refuse feedback,
make excuses, and ultimately not take any responsibility for their part. Defensiveness leads to victim game behavior and never allows for a win/win mentality in any relationship.

“It’s your fault I am yelling; if you’d just do what I asked, I wouldn’t have to blow up.”

The Antidote is to Take Responsibility. You are responsible for your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors—nobody else. Own your mistakes without blaming others or making excuses. Regarding feedback, accept it, allow it to marinate, and allow yourself to grow.

Too often, people take feedback as a personal attack against them versus a chance to change their thoughts or behaviors. Not taking things personally can help you own your behavior and show remorse. Additionally, it is essential to apologize.

“I shouldn’t have yelled at you; I am sorry and won’t do it again.”


The Antidote to Contempt

The third horseman, Contempt, is when a person displays disgust or hostility toward their partner—typically done by using a sarcastic tone, insults, and having a sense of superiority.

The Antidote is to Share Fondness and Admiration by showing each other respect and gratitude. You can do this in many ways, including being affectionate, recognizing each other’s strengths, and affirming your partner.

couple working on communication


The Antidote to Stonewalling

The fourth horseman, Stonewalling, is when a person withdraws, shuts down, or is silent during important discussions. Stonewalling can happen when a person feels overwhelmed and wants to avoid conflict. However, stonewalling does not foster healthy relationships because issues often go without resolution.

The Antidote uses Self-Soothing techniques to help you calm down and relax. Doing so helps to stay present with your loved one. Options to help with this issue are asking for a time out, deep breathing, mindfulness, and grounding exercises.



All relationships have ebbs and flows, but when you and your partner find yourself in challenging situations, these tips can help you engage with each other in healthier ways and defeat destructive behaviors.


Need More Help?

If you need professional help and guidance in your relationship, we have friendly, licensed counselors available in Oregon and Idaho. Contact us to schedule an appointment and begin the journey towards a healthier relationship.




Gottman, J. M. (2008). Gottman method couple therapy. Clinical handbook of couple therapy, 4(8), 138-164.


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