Encyclopedia of Couple and Family Therapy

2019 Edition
| Editors: Jay L. Lebow, Anthony L. Chambers, Douglas C. Breunlin

Four Horsemen in Couple and Family Therapy

  • John M. GottmanEmail author
  • Carrie Cole
  • Donald L. Cole
Reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-49425-8_179

Name of Concept

The Four Horsemen in Couple and Family Therapy


The Horsemen of the Apocalypse; The four relationship killers; The four destructive relationship behaviors


The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse refers to patterns of negative affect and behavior observed in couples’ interactions. They represent an escalation of negativity that strongly predicts relationship distress or breakup. A major goal of the Gottman method couple therapy is to reduce and/or eliminate the Four Horsemen when they are present. The vivid imagery of the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” was drawn from the description of destruction found in the book of Revelation and was used by Dr. John Gottman to highlight their destructiveness to relationships.

Theoretical Context for Concept

Gottman’s research into couples discovered a ratio of negative to positive exchanges during conflict conversations that predicted the trajectory of the relationship over time. Couples whose relationships...

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.


  1. Ekman, P., Friesen, W. V., & Ellsworth, P. (1972). Emotion in the human face. New York: Pergamon Press.Google Scholar
  2. Gottman, J. M. (1994). What predicts divorce? Hillsdale: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  3. Gottman, J. M. (2015). Principia Amoris: The natural principles of love. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  4. Gottman, J. M., & Levenson, R. W. (2002). Two-factor model for predicting when a couple will divorce: Exploratory analyses using 14-year longitudinal data. Family Process, 41, 83–96.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Wile, D. B. (1993). After the fight. New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • John M. Gottman
    • 1
    Email author
  • Carrie Cole
    • 1
  • Donald L. Cole
    • 1
  1. 1.The Gottman InstituteSeattleUSA

Section editors and affiliations

  • Kelley Quirk
    • 1
  • Adam R. Fisher
    • 2
  1. 1.Colorado State UniversityFort CollinsUSA
  2. 2.The Family Institute at Northwestern UniversityEvanstonUSA