The Four Most Destructive Ways to Argue

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ways to argue

Want to know the four most toxic ways to argue? In this video, I reveal what they are PLUS the antidotes so you can learn to fight fair!

Renowned psychologist, Dr. John Gottman, coined a term to describe the four most toxic ways to argue. He called them the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, as they can lead to the end of a relationship if they go unchecked. In this video, I review the Four Horsemen and give you the antidotes so you can learn how to resolve conflict with grace!

The Four Most Destructive Ways to Argue

#1: Criticism: Verbally attacking personality or character

Criticism is an attack on your partner’s character. The difference between expressing a complaint and criticizing is…
Criticism: “You’re so selfish. You never think about helping with the dishes. You never think of me!”
Complaint: “When you left the table after dinner without helping with the dishes, I was upset. I thought we had agreed that you’d help with the dishes after every meal. Is everything okay?”

If you and your partner are critical of each other, it’s a warning sign that the relationship is in trouble. If criticism is pervasive, it can lead to contempt.


Antidote: Talk about your feelings using “I” statements and express a positive need.

#2: Contempt: Attacking someone’s character with an intent to insult or abuse

Signs of contempt are: treating others with disrespect, mocking them with sarcasm, making fun of them, name calling, and mimicking. The target of contempt can feel despised and worthless. Contempt is about moral superiority over your partner.

Example: “Stop ignoring me. Put your phone down and pay attention when I talk. Or, is Instagram more important than me? I don’t have the energy to deal with you.”

Contempt is fueled by negative thoughts about your partner that have been simmering. It is the single greatest predictor of divorce, which is why it must be eliminated if you want your relationship to succeed.


Antidote: Build a culture of appreciation. Remind yourself of your partner’s positive qualities and express gratitude for their positive actions.

#3: Defensiveness: Victimizing yourself to ward off a perceived attack and reverse the blame

Defensiveness is usually a response to criticism. When we feel unjustly accused, we find excuses so our partner will back off. Our excuses convey that we don’t take our partner’s concerns seriously and we won’t take responsibility for our share of the problem.

Here’s an example of defensiveness:
Question: “Did you stop at the grocery store to pick up milk on your way home, as you promised this morning?”
Defensive response: “No! I was just too busy today. Come on, you of all people know just how busy my schedule was. Why didn’t you just do it?”

The partner responds defensively and reverses blame in an attempt to make it their partner’s fault. A non-defensive response expresses acceptance of responsibility, admission of fault, and understanding of your partner’s perspective.


Non-defensive response: “So sorry, I forgot. I should have asked you this morning to do it, because I knew my day would be so busy. I’ll go to the corner store right now to get the milk.” 

Defensiveness escalates the conflict if the critical partner doesn’t back down or apologize. Blaming your partner doesn’t allow for healthy conflict management.


Antidote: Take responsibility. Accept your partner’s perspective and offer an apology for anything you’ve done wrong.

#4: Stonewalling: Withdrawing to avoid conflict or convey disapproval, distance, and separation

Stonewalling is usually a response to contempt. It can look like getting up and walking away, putting a book or newspaper up and blocking their partner, or just turning away and not responding.

Stonewalling is a result of feeling physiologically flooded, where we can’t discuss things rationally. If you feel like you’re stonewalling during a conflict, stop the discussion and ask your partner to take a break.


“I’m feeling too angry to keep talking about this. Let’s take a break so I can calm down. It’ll be easier to work through this when I’m calmer.”


Then take some time – 20 minutes – to do something alone that soothes you—read a book or magazine, take a walk, go for a run, meditate…anything that helps to stop feeling flooded—and then return to the conversation once you feel ready.


Antidote: Self-soothe. Take a break and spend that time doing something soothing that will calm you down so you can return to the conversation in a calm and rational state of mind.


Being able to identify the Four Horsemen when you’re in conflict is a necessary first step to eliminating them. Practice the antidotes to counteract the horsemen, and you’ll have the healthy relationship you desire and deserve.

This month in the Woman of Value Club, the topic is “How to Have Difficult Conversations”. Join now, and you can attend the one-hour masterclass with live coaching on Thursday, September 17th, at 8 PM Eastern. If you miss it, you’ll get the replay.

Join the Woman of Value Club today!

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