Four Actions Used to Predict Divorce in Couples

Updated on October 5, 2017

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalpyse by John Gottman

All of those who have been in a romantic relationship can confirm that it is a challenge and sometimes a difficult process we have to go through if we want our relationship to endure and flourish. We all have disagreements, arguments and conflicts with our partners. In fact, it is a healthy sign for the relationship when couples argue and have disagreements because it means they are negotiating different points of views, ideas and perceptions. When partners argue it is a sign that both parties have a voice in the relationship vs. having just one side of the party making all the decisions. What makes the difference is the tone of voice and the type of things you say when you are arguing with your partner.

Dr. John Gottman is known for his work on marriage stability and relationship analysis. He came up with the metaphor called The Four Horsemen of the Apocalpyse. It basically discusses different communication styles that can be used as a prediction for divorce. Having this communication styles in mind can be useful because once you are aware of a certain behavior, it can be easier to control. One of the main goals of psychoanalysis is to bring to consciousness the unconscious.

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalpyse

1) Criticism- There is a difference between constructive criticism and attacking the other person. For example, instead of saying to your partner “You are so lazy, you never help me!” You can better say “It makes me feel sad/angry/frustrated when you don’t offer to help out around the house”. Also, we often make the mistake of ONLY noticing when our partners are not doing a certain task but we ignore it when they are actually doing something to make us happy and or/ to help out.

2) Defensiveness- It is hard for everyone to take responsibility for the actions we make, however, freedom comes from owning our actions instead of blaming the other person for our problems and shortcomings. When our partners try to tell us that something bothers her/him, instead of listening to understand, we listen to respond in a defensive manner. It is a very healthy habit when we try to just listen to understand some aspects we need to modify in order to improve our relationships and to grow as human

3) Contempt- Of all the horsemen, contempt is the most serious. By definition it means “the feeling that a person or a thing is beneath consideration, worthless, or deserving scorn.” Examples of contempt are: rolling our eyes, name-calling, making feel our partner less than us, making offensive comments, etc. It is extremely important that we are aware of this tendency if we want to keep the respect of our loved one and make him/her feel appreciated and valued. Once we lose respect for our partner it will be difficult to love her/him and at the same time, it will be even more difficult for her/him to love us back. It is important to acknowledge the fact that we are upset and it’s time to take a few minutes to cool off and avoid making harsh comments and or/ non-verbal gestures that can offend our partner. Always remember, this is not a competition; when you make your partner “lose/win” you also “lose/win” and vice versa.

4) Stonewalling- Research shows that this type of behavior has the highest rate for divorce. This happens when one of the partners shuts down and decides to walk away from the argument/conflict (80% are men). This leaves the other person feeling abandoned and ignored. The truth is that when the person walks away it’s because she/he is feeling overwhelmed and needs to calm down. However, the other person (usually the woman) feels that her partner does not care about her and or/ about the relationship. Men tend to stonewall a lot more frequent than women because men become frustrated and overwhelmed easily. On the other hand, women are more emotional and are always open to talk about the situation and the feelings involved to the point of exhaustion and repetition. To avoid this type of situations, it’s a good idea to be aware of the sings that reveal that your partner is overwhelmed/irritated/frustrated and be able to take a “time-out” from the argument and leave it for a moment when the two of you are calmed and in a more stable state of mind.

I hope you enjoyed the reading and can implement some of these tips on your daily life! Leave your comment below and stay tuned!.

Based on John Gottman's, PhD, Relationship Research
Adapted from his book "The Seven Principles for Making a Marriage Work"

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