John Gottman is an author, expert and well-respected relationship therapist with a theory about what kills a relationship most effectively. For nearly three decades, he’s studied couple’s relationships and counseled partners looking for ways to preserve their connection. He’s found that certain behavioral patterns are predictors of divorce. Scientific evidence indicates he’s right most of the time. Gottman named these relationship patterns the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.”
When Gottman’s relational “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” come riding into your marriage, you and your spouse are in real trouble! This kind of trouble won’t blow over or resolve itself. These horsemen bring hurt, disconnect and divorce in their wake.
You’ll need to get to know your enemies and defend your love against them if you want your marriage to survive. According to Gottman, these four predictors of divorce are enemies of your happy relationship:
Thoughts and remarks to or about your partner deal the first blow to the safety, trust, and loving feelings between you and your spouse. This is an attack on your partner as a person, rather than their actions and behavior.
When you begin to pick each other apart and continually voice displeasure with the other’s faults, hurt and resentment build. Soon efforts to repair the rift and refocus on the aspects you appreciate about each other become less prevalent and appreciation for each other fades.
This behavior is easy to indulge when you feel attacked. Very quickly, the emotional walls go up and tender feelings are barricaded behind them. Walls make hearing and seeing your partner clearly much more difficult. Emotionally-available connection is severed, misunderstandings increase, and miscommunication amplifies negative interaction.
Once defensiveness becomes your go-to response, along comes blame and a lack of self-examination, which make apologies and reconciliation extremely difficult.
This predictor often spells certain doom in a relationship. Contempt is a lack of respect. It is cloaked in judgment, dripping with sarcasm, and full of negativity, conflict and resentment. A relationship without respect deteriorates quickly and painfully as you lose the ability to see anything positive or worthy of preserving.
Usually one or more of the following things are going on:
You’ve determined your partner isn’t worth much without your direction or commentary.
You’ve judged your partner’s behavior and character as generally negative and unchangeable.
Your communication has broken down into “you” language (you always…, you never…), personal attacks (you’re so clueless!) and universal characterizations (everyone knows you’re wrong).
You no longer acknowledge the emotions and needs of your partner. You actively invalidate them, alienate, ignore or put down his or her feelings, shutting down intimacy and breaking emotional ties.
According to Dr. Gottman, stonewalling is “when a listener withdraws from an interaction by getting quiet or shutting down.” This behavior, characterized by withdrawal and silence, is often a result of feeling mentally or emotionally overwhelmed. It’s an effort to regain a sense of calm and control, which is understandable, but a refusal to engage at all devalues the relationship and isolates you from each other. Stonewalling sends an undeniably hurtful message to your partner. The lack of eye contact, disinterest and intentional avoidance say, “You’re not important and I’m not interested in moving our relationship forward.”
John Gottman offers these divorce predictors or “Four Horsemen” as a warning, but also a reason for hope. If you know what to look for, you, your partner and an experienced relationship counselor can help defend your relationship against the subtle sabotage of the “Four Horseman.” I’m a coach/counselor in San Antonio, Texas. Call me to make an appointment if you need help with your marriage.