Dr. John Gottman of the Gottman Institute can predict divorce! That’s right, and with 94% accuracy. According to Dr. Gottman, the biggest indicator of a couples’ success is not whether they argue, it’s how they argue. Conflict is inevitable in relationships, which means a couple’s ability to find their way through disagreements will determine their long-term success.
When a couple comes to the Gottman Institute for counseling, Dr. Gottman and his wife Julie Gottman ask them to have a discussion about an issue they are trying to resolve. As the couple engages, the following, (or lack thereof), will determine the health of their relationship.
A harsh startup. One of the clearest indicators of a couples’ success is how they bring up an issue. If one or both partners treats the issue like it is the other’s fault or the result of a character flaw, resolution is unlikely. Statistics show that conversations overwhelmingly end the way they begin. This means that if a couple begins a conversation in a negative, accusatory, or sarcastic way, chances are the conflict will not get resolved (and over time, the marriage will fail).
The four horsemen. The four horsemen of the apocalypse were conquest, war, famine, and death. In relationships, the four horsemen are criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling. And when these four horsemen take up permanent residence in a relationship, it likely indicates ruin.
Criticism, often delivered in the form of sarcasm. Note the difference between criticism and a complaint. A complaint is a non-accusatory statement about a situation. Complaints can be heard. In contrast, criticism is an attack on someone’s character and a suggestion that they themselves are the issue. Criticism will likely fuel a disagreement, escalate a conflict, and prompt the response, “Oh yeah? Well you’re not so perfect, either”. While criticism alone doesn’t indicate divorce, it is an unhealthy pattern in relationships.
Contempt, which according to Dr. Gottman, is the most deadly of the four horsemen and the biggest predictor of divorce. Contempt can sneak into a relationship in many forms: eye-rolling, sneering, mocking, or acting superior are all forms of contempt. Said simply, contempt indicates disgust and disrespect and is absolutely poisonous to a relationship. Contempt leads to more conflict, not the resolution of conflict. Also this: contempt erodes the immune system and partners who breed contempt in their relationship are more likely to suffer from infectious diseases!
Defensiveness puts partners on opposite sides on a problem. When someone is acting defensive, they aren’t taking responsibility for the issue or their behavior. Defensiveness often goes hand in hand with criticism or contempt, because the more a partner is blamed or shamed, the more they get defensive. And the more they get defensive, the more the other partner attacks. The opposite of defensiveness would be, “What you’re saying makes some sense, can you tell me more?”. A statement like this invites a couple to become a team working to solve a problem together.
Stonewalling is the fourth and final horsemen in relationships. Stonewalling is a destructive pattern where a person shuts down and stops communicating completely. Although both partners in a relationship are capable of stonewalling, it’s more common in men than women. Stonewalling is often the last horsemen to enter a relationship and although the stonewalling partner may actually be trying not to make things worse, they usually are.
Body language is also used to predict a couple’s success. One example is flooding, a physiological response to an emotional attack. Flooding signals emotional distress to the body, which responds with an increased heart rate (over 100 bpm), high blood pressure, and soaring adrenaline. When someone is flooded they are actually unable to have a productive, creative, problem-solving discussion. Instead, they are left with only fight (criticism, contempt, and defensiveness) or flight (stonewalling).
Failed repair attempts. Because all couples fight, it comes as no surprise that those who are unable to successfully repair afterward are in trouble. Breaks and timeouts are examples of successful repair attempts, as are using code words and laughter to diffuse difficult situations in order to create space for conflict-resolving conversations. Without successful repairing, emotional flooding takes over, conflict resolution is nearly impossible, and the four horsemen hear an invitation to stay.
Bad memories are the final sign a marriage is in trouble. At the Gottman Institute, couples are asked how they met and what their first impressions of each other were. In a happy marriage, a couple remembers things fondly, and even the toughest of times are seen in a good light. In contrast, in an unhappy marriage, history often gets rewritten and seen negatively. Bad memories signal that a negative cloud has engulfed the marriage as a whole and the couple sees the marriage itself as bad.
It’s inevitable that the above behaviors will show up in any relationship. It’s when they take up permanent residence and result in emotional disengagement that trouble is on the horizon. The good news is that Dr. Gottman himself believes that with the right kind of help, many more marriages could be saved.
This is why it is so important to work with a couples therapy specialist. Someone who is qualified and experienced. Someone who knows it’s not about teaching couples to avoid conflict completely, it’s about focusing on the things that make a marriage a success. And according to Dr. Gottman, the most important piece of saving or strengthening a marriage “is to strengthen the friendship at the heart of it”. Here at The Relationship Therapy Center, we are honored to be a part of your journey and to work with you as you strengthen your relationship. Call today to schedule an appointment!
Begin Divorce Counseling in Roseville, CA and Fair Oaks, CA:
If you are considering or going through a divorce then divorce counseling can make the process more amicable. Get help from a Gottman therapist at the relationship therapy center and being counseling in Fair Oaks, CA, Roseville, CA, or online therapy in California. To get started, follow these steps:
Contact the Relationship Therapy Center. This link will allow you to schedule your free 20-minute phone consultation to learn more about discernment or divorce counseling,
Meet with one of our compassionate marriage and family therapists
Begin divorce counseling and learn how to separate in a respectful and thoughtful way.
Other Services offered at The Relationship Therapy Center:
In addition to divorce counseling and discernment counseling, Our Sacramento area counseling clinics located in Roseville and Fair Oaks, CA are pleased to offer a variety of mental health services. Our couples services include: Couples Counseling, Counseling after infidelity, sex therapy, co-parent counseling, family therapy, divorce counseling, intensive couples retreats, and premarital counseling. Our individual therapy services include anxiety treatment, therapy for children, teen therapy, depression treatment, codependency counseling and individual relationship counseling. Our therapists offer online counseling in California to treat a variety of mental health concerns. Please reach out to our Sacramento area therapy office to learn more about the many ways we can help you or your loved ones.