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!

Take Back Your Marriage!

We at Well Marriage Center are unabashed fans of Dr. William (Bill) Doherty. His book, Take Back Your Marriage: Sticking Together in a World that Pulls us Apart, is often something we recommend to young couples just starting out on the marriage journey. But over the past several years, we’ve been recommending this book to every couple currently engaged, in marriage, or in a marriage-type relationship.

We all need this book!  Here’s why:

We know the statistics, and yes, they are grim. 1 in 4 currently married couples are likely to divorce. The rate jumps to 40%-50% when projecting the divorce rate for newly married couples – the highest in human history. We clearly have a problem.

But, research and polls indicate an overwhelming majority (most of us) still want and desire a permanent marital commitment someday. Our deepest longing is for stable, intimate bonds.

It’s just that we’re scared… and for good reason. We see the statistics, we see our parents, our friends, our family – and we question whether or not the ideal of marriage is possible in today’s world.

It is possible! But we must wake up to a new marriage reality. Dr. Doherty:

  • Our marriages can’t be the marriages of our parents and grandparents. Too much has changed than ever before in human history – we now aspire to greater equality between men and women and higher levels of emotional intimacy in marriage
  • Modern marriages require more mindfulness than marriages of the past. We expect more from marriage, but we have not yet woken up to that fact.
  • Success in marriage today requires two ingredients that no previous generation has ever had to put together: powerful commitment combined with an intentional focus on maintaining and growing one’s marriage.

Our problem is not a lack of love or noble intentions. It’s that we don’t know what we’re up against in contemporary marriage – we don’t have a strategy to care for and nurture our marriage or take it back when we start to lose it.

Well Marriage Center is here to help you. We’re trained exclusively and work exclusively with and for couples. We understand the dynamics, challenges, and problems your modern marriage faces – and we’re here to help you find and plan a strategy that allows to you Take Back Your Marriage. We believe most every couple can grow and thrive…together!

Click here to learn about the specialized Well Marriage Center approach for helping you take back your marriage…

Well Marriage Center Launches!

For years I’ve heard Glen Denlinger dream about how to best help couples.  For 25+ years he has specialized in helping people save and repair their marriage relationships.  Back from the brink.  Succeeding.  Thriving.  This is his passion.  It’s what he enjoys most.  It’s his area of expertise.  Thousands of couples have benefited from his counsel and coaching.

Bit by bit…

But his dream as I heard it went beyond just couples counseling. More and more, bit by bit, it became a broader vision for the community and for couples in every stage of their relationship. “People can change the trajectory of their entire marriage if they can learn how to care for and nurture their relationship.  We need to help people understand that positive, strengths-based care and supportiveness helps a marriage soar much more than negativity drags it down.  This is not just about reducing our divorce rate. We also need to increase our percentage of ‘well-married’ and thriving relationships.”

Well Marriage Center was created to help your relationship succeed. We’re a full service center for your relationship. While we specialize in couples/marriage counseling, our vision is to encourage couples along the entire spectrum of relational health to care for and nurture their marriage relationship.