Is there a way to predict the failure of a marriage before it even begins? The world-renowned Dr. John Gottman might have found the answer.
In over 40 years of studying love, marriage and human relationships, Dr. Gottman has found patterns of interaction that can predict a couple’s chance of marital success with about a 94 percent accuracy. Four particular patterns have been identified as the leading indicators of a failing relationship. Recognizing and addressing these problems as a couple could very well be the difference between a blissful marriage and a heart-wrenching divorce.
1. You tear each other down with criticism
There are two kinds of criticism. Positive criticism is used to correct and build another person. The comments made are geared toward assisting this person in learning from his or her mistakes and improving his or her work in the future. Negative criticism is not constructive at all. Instead of pointing out the problem and suggesting a solution, negative criticism seeks to tear down the other person by focusing only on his or her faults.
Dr. Gottman describes this kind of criticism as an attack on your spouse’s personality, character and interests. He found that the couples who consistently acted as if each error was a result of the other’s faulty character eventually ended their marriage in a divorce.
2. You are defensive during arguments
In his studies, Dr. Gottman observed that the couples that had a problem with defensiveness usually had larger problems with their marriage down the road. He identified defensiveness as one or both members of the relationship always perceiving themselves as the innocent victims. During arguments, these defensive couples would deny responsibility, whine and make excuses. This kind of arguing makes it nearly impossible to get anything resolved. Because of this, every fight adds a weight to the marriage until the marriage eventually breaks under the strain.
A very common indicator that a relationship is suffering from defensiveness is the act of “cross-complaining” during a quarrel. Instead of listening to his partner’s concerns, a spouse will meet her with a complaint or criticism of his own. He may even repeat his arguments over and over again, ignoring what his spouse is saying. In defensive arguments, you will often hear phrases such as, “Well, if you hadn’t done this, I wouldn’t have done that … ” and “That isn’t true. You are the one who did this … ”
3. You treat one another with contempt
Pride and contempt usually go hand-in-hand. A prideful spouse will often see her partner as inferior or lesser. This can come from the spouse thinking that she is more intelligent, a harder worker, more attractive, a better parent, etc. These ways of thinking often result in this prideful spouse producing harsh, disrespectful and sarcastic comments, name-calling, eye rolling and insults geared toward her partner.
As you can probably imagine, these greater-than lesser-than relationships never succeed. Unless both parties can come to see each other as equals, there is very little hope of gaining the love and respect needed for a happy marriage. In fact, according to Dr. Gottman’s findings, contempt may be the leading predictor of marital misery and a future divorce. There is simply no room for love to thrive when one member of the relationship is always looking down on and attacking the other.
4. You stonewall your spouse to avoid conflict
Stonewalling could also be defined as the silent treatment. Though this may not seem like a deadly threat, Dr. Gottman has found that marriages plagued with stonewalling have a high risk of ending in divorce. The act of stonewalling has been proven to cause a great amount of emotional distance in a relationship, which will only increase unless addressed by the couple.
During stonewalling, a spouse will totally shut down. He will extract himself from the situation emotionally and sometimes physically, hoping to avoid a conflict. While this might be a well-intentioned tactic for dodging an argument, it usually leaves the stonewalled spouse feeling shunned, disconnected, ignored and disapproved of. The silence will eventually turn icy and make any other kind of communication difficult. In the end, the attempt to prevent a conflict only creates an even bigger one