Published On: July 3, 2014

While kids may say that the hottest trend is a playstation4, an x-box, or an iPod, there is one gift parents can give their children that is not just a fad and will stand the test of time. The answer, of course, is a happy stable home environment.

Children who are exposed to conflict are more likely to experience physical and emotional struggles. The best opportunity parents can provide for their children is safety, security, and consistency. However, if you are in the middle of a troubled marriage these protective factors are at risk.

Dr. John Gottman is a renowned researcher and marital therapist for over 20 years, and through his research he has been able to predict divorce with 87.4% accuracy. How?… “The Four Horseman of the Apocalypse”:

  • Criticism: It is not uncommon for partners to have complaints about their partner’s actions, but when complaints turn into criticism the relationship is at risk. Criticism involves attacking a person’s character rather than their behavior. According to Dr. Gottman, complaining is a very healthy activity in marriage and provides opportunity for the relationship to grow stronger. The trouble is that there is a fine line between complaining and criticizing. When one partner becomes critical the other partner will likely end up feeling inadequate.
  • Contempt: The difference between criticism and contempt is the intention to insult your partner. Contempt often looks like insults, name calling, mockery, or hostile humour. Contemptuous thoughts about your partner inhibit your ability to remember anything positive about them. When admiration for your partner is gone, the relationship is in jeopardy.
  • Defensiveness: When one partner is being attacked with criticism or contempt, the other partner is likely to become defensive. While this is a reasonable response, the risk is that the “victim” feels justified in being defensive. In other words, you do not see a problem with your defensive behavior. Defensiveness only adds to the conflict, because you are not holding yourself accountable. The simplest way to resolve conflict is to take responsibility for your behaviour and own it.
  • Stonewalling: Often times in talking about a problem one partner will shut down and become like a “wall of stone”. If you do this, you are removing yourself from the conversation and saying, “I am done here”. This withdrawal is powerful and significantly influences the relationship. Stonewalling often leads to feelings of “I’m just not important enough to you”.

So, what does all of this mean? Every relationship will have a run in with the 4 horsemen at some point. However, the horsemen become problematic when they have a consistent and ongoing presence in your relationship. If the 4 horsemen have moved in and taken over your relationship, you may want to consider seeking support. When your relationship is struggling your children are likely experiencing turmoil as well. Why? Most of what kids learn is from what they see in the home environment. This does not mean that if your relationship is in despair your children are “ruined for life”. However, it is an important factor to consider when thinking about the emotional well being of your child. Children thrive when they experience a healthy, safe, and happy home.


  • Gottman., J., (2012). What makes your marriage work? It’s how you resolve conflict that matters most. Nan Silver.
  • Gottman., J. (2000). Seven principles for making a marriage work. Nan Silver.

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