On Predicting Divorce

The Four Horsemen of the Relationship Apocalypse 

With the news always sounding like it’s the end of the world, I thought it would be a fitting time to address the difficult reality of divorce – particularly what indicators in a relationship are most likely to lead to its end.

Are there warning signs you can pay attention to that may prevent the end of your marriage?   

Dr. John Gottman is one of the leading marriage researchers and a top authority in the marriage counseling world. We have the utmost respect for Dr. Gottman and all of our marriage counselors are required to complete Gottman Level 1 and Level 2 trainings…at a minimum. Dr. Gottman reports that he can predict with 96% accuracy within the first few minutes of a couple having a conversation whether the relationship he is watching will survive over the long-haul or not. He bases his prediction on four elements, which he calls the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse. These lethal horseman “clip-clop into the heart of a marriage in the following order: criticism, contempt, defensiveness, stonewalling.” I’m going to explain these four elements below because they are indeed incredibly toxic to the long-term success of your relationship.

BUT, all hope is not lost if one or more describe you. We work with couples all the time who have one or more of these “horseman” present in their relationship. I’ve seen too many of these couples do the hard work of stopping these horsemen in their tracks, survive, and go on to thrive in their relationship. We think the important distinction is this: the continuation of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse is what dooms a marriage, not just their presence.

So, the good news is: tomorrow is not actually the end of the world…and tomorrow doesn’t have to be the end of your marriage! But many couples do wait until these horsemen are firmly entrenched. If any of the four below describe you, contact the relationship specialists at Well Marriage Center immediately. We’re trained and experienced to help your marriage grow and thrive…for the long term!

Dr. John Gottman’s Four Horsemen of the Apocalpyse:

1)      Criticism: This is different than having a complaint about our partner or offering a critique, which are normal in a long-term relationship. No, what he’s referring is how we communicate our complaints to our partners. Criticism is “a way of fueling an attack, so you state your complaint as an attack on the other person. It’s not constructive and it ends up escalating the conflict.” It’s when we complain by way of attacking our partner at their very core.

Example:  “You haven’t asked me about how my day and how my big meeting went” is a complaint. A criticism on the other hand is more general and blaming, “You always talk about yourself and never think about me. You’re so selfish.”

2)      Contempt: Dr. Gottman considers this perhaps the best indicator of divorce, because it quickly reveals the “respect” value of a relationship. This element contains a deadly air of superiority in which we are mean, often treating our partner with disrespect by using sarcasm, name-calling, ridicule, eye-rolling, etc. Our partner feels despised and worthless. Dr. Gottman says contempt is absolutely deadly and must be eliminated.

Example:  “You really are a self-centered jerk. You just do whatever you want without regard for anyone else. You’re the sorriest excuse for a wife or husband I can think of.”

3)      Defensiveness:  This is a particularly easy element to allow into our relationships. If we feel accused, our natural inclination is to defend ourselves, to offer an excuse, or to shift blame back to the other person. But the danger in defensiveness is that it communicates we don’t hear our partner’s complaint. By being defensive and deflecting, we are ignoring our partner. Dr. Gottman calls this defensiveness “self-protection in the form of righteous indignation or innocent victim-hood.”

Example:  “It’s not my fault I didn’t call you, I wasn’t near a phone.”

4)      Stonewalling: When a partner gets too tired or is afraid of confronting issues, he or she will just withdraw. Emotionally, physically, mentally. Also known as the silent treatment. During an argument this can translate as stony silence, meaning the partner doesn’t engage or ignores their partner – which often escalates the fight. Stonewalling involves turning away from our partner.

Example: The listener does not give the speaker the usual nonverbal signals that the listener is “tracking” the speaker.

There is Hope Yet

Our trained therapists use the best of relationship science to help you and your partner break out of these toxic cycles. Get started with us today!