No one goes into marriage expecting divorce.
Often clients will ask me, “So, what do you think? Are we going to make it?”
I have no crystal ball, but I do know there are usually strong indicators for what’s happening in the direction of a life or a relationship. I also know what is needed to make repairs.
Dr. John Gottman, founder of the Gottman Institute, began studying couples in 1972. For over four decades, he has been examining what patterns in couples cause them to be “Masters” or “Disasters” in their relationships. Dr. Gottman’s best prediction rate of divorce was 94%.
Dr. John Gottman identified four destructive behaviors:
Criticism: stating one’s complaints as a defect in one’s partner’s personality, i.e., giving the partner negative trait attributions. Example: “You always talk about yourself. You are so selfish.”
Contempt: statements that come from a relative position of superiority. Contempt is the greatest predictor of divorce and must be eliminated. Example: “You’re an idiot.”
Defensiveness: self-protection in the form of righteous indignation or innocent victim-hood. Defensiveness wards off a perceived attack. Example: “It’s not my fault that we’re always late; it’s your fault.”
Stonewalling: emotional withdrawal from interaction. Example: The listener does not give the speaker the usual nonverbal signals that the listener is “tracking” the speaker.
These predict early divorcing – an average of 5.6 years after the wedding. Emotional withdrawal and anger predict later divorcing – an average of 16.2 years after the wedding.
Dr. Gottman identified eleven sustaining behaviors:
- Behave like good friends
- Handle conflict in gentle, positive ways
- Repair negative interactions during an argument
- Fully process negative emotions
- Increase respect, affection, and closeness
- Deepen the friendship foundation of your relationship
- Break through and resolve conflict when you feel stuck
- Generate greater understanding between you and your partner
- Keep conflict discussion calm
- Create shared meaning
- Maintain improvements in your relationship