Protecting Your Marriage: Avoiding the Six Predictors of Divorce

by Norris Law Group on November 19, 2013

couple_silhouette_suitcaseIn a posting on SmartStepfamilies.com, author Cheryl A. Rowen asks, “So, what does make a marriage last a lifetime?” Of course, the “answer” to this may be different for all married couples.

Rowen cites the work of John Gottman, the author of The Seven Principles for Making a Marriage Work, who suggests that there are Six Predictors of Divorce:

  1. Harsh startups. Couples find themselves beginning discussions harshly, with criticism or sarcasm.
  2. The Four Horsemen. Criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling (aka withdrawal) invade communication within the marriage.
  3. Flooding. One spouse’s negativity is so overwhelming so as to be shocking, and the other emotionally disengages from the relationship.
  4. Body Language. One’s heart rate may increase, blood pressure may rise, and one’s ability to process information accurately is diminished, making it difficult to pay attention to what one’s spouse may actually be saying.
  5. Failed Repair Attempts. Efforts made by either spouse to bring down tensions during sensitive discussions fail continually fail.
  6. Bad Memories. One who may be “stuck” in a negative view of one’s spouse and/or of the marriage often inaccurately “rewrite the past” to seem even more negative.

Rowen further quotes Gottman’s contention that “the Four Horsemen” of criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling/withdrawal may be at the heart of many breakups, and provides examples of each, along with a proposed strategy for avoiding arguments:

Criticism: “Why are you so inconsistent with our kid(s)?” Gottman suggests that a “welcomed complaint” may be better than a pointed “accusation” or criticism, such as “I felt undervalued when you argued with me in front our child last night.”

Contempt: Failure to properly deal with criticism in a marriage can lead to the “Second Horseman” of contempt.

Defensiveness:  Gottman offers that many couples fall into a pattern of being defensive (“This is YOUR fault, not mine!”) or “cross-complaining,” e.g. “You are always late!” “Do you realize how HARD I have to work all day?”

Gottman suggests that couples may use the following strategies to avoid and/or deal with conflict in a more positive way:

  • Stop seeing your spouse’s words as an attack, but rather as information that is being strongly expressed.
  • Try to understand and empathize with your partner.
  • Be open and receptive during conflict.
  • Remember to breathe!
  • Listen rather than talk.

Stonewalling/Withdrawal: According to Gottman, stonewalling/withdrawing are clear signs to your partner that you have “checked out” of the relationship, leaving on solid ground on which to establish a footing for progress. He suggests two strategies which may help if one partner is stonewalling:

  • Stay calm.
  • Take a “time out,” but make sure to only return to the discussion when you’ve “cooled off!”

Attorney Graham Norris and his associates at the Norris Law Group serve the residents of Utah County and throughout Utah in the area of divorce. Contact them today at 801-932-1238 or online for a free consultation.

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