Dr John Gottman on Predicting Divorce

Soila Sindiyo Child Trauma Therapist Founder of The Divorce Magazine
Soila Sindiyo Child Trauma Therapist Founder of The Divorce Magazine

There’s a fantastic book I’ve been reading by Dr John Gottman called The Seven Principles For Making Marriage Work (even as a divorced mum, is never too late to read:-)

I came across him and his work whilst reading a book by Malcolm Gladwell called Blink which is about the feelings and thoughts you get in the first two seconds of meeting someone or seeing something for the first time.  Fabulous book which is, as always, brilliantly recounted in that Malcolm Gladwell style.

But back to Dr Gottman and his book.

What is remarkable about Dr Gottman’s work is that through his research he is now able to watch a couple’s interaction for  just fifteen minutes and he is able to  predict with 90% accuracy if their marriage will remain intact or not by observing not only the language, tone and manner of speaking to one another but also physical behaviour and reactions such as facial expression, body language, heartbeat and galvanic skin responses.

There are 6 signs that help predict a relationship demise but I will cover just one of them and very briefly just to give you an idea of what he says.  This particular Predictor is called  “The Four Horsemen” – very apocalyptic.

  • Criticism

  • Defensiveness

  • Contempt

  • Stonewalling

Enter the first horseman Criticism:   Now there’s a difference between a complaint and criticism.  A complaint refers to something specific about the person you live with e.g. “I’m not happy that you forgot to take the rubbish out last night.”  We all have complaints and our partners have them about us too.    Criticism on the other hand is a blanket that we throw over the person’s personality or character.  “You forgot to take the rubbish out again last night.  You keep doing it and it’s very selfish of you.  You only think about yourself, very selfish.”

And when this happens, more often than not the partner receiving the criticism is pushed into what is the second horseman – defensiveness where the he/she replies by defending their actions and portraying themselves as a victim and by doing this, points the finger back at his/her partner.  “Well, I come home late most evenings too tired to even think.  Your at home so you know best what needs to be done and when.  This is another way of stating –  “The problem isn’t me, it’s you.”

Predicting Divorce
Contempt: The Worst of the Four Horsemen – Predicting divorce

The third horseman, and the most destructive is Contempt  this is  “any statement you make to your partner from a superior place.  So most of the time you speak down at them.”  I know of a couple where the husband would regularly correct his wife’s grammar in the middle of an argument.  Contempt is  is poisonous to any relationship and will always lead to more conflict.

Contempt maybe demonstrated verbally or physicalyl or both  and may include sarcasm, cynicism, name-calling, eye-rolling, sneering, mockery and hostile humour.

Now what is interesting here too is that it has been found that the recipient of regular contempt is more likely to get a number of infectious diseases as his/her immune functioning weakens.

Contempt is fuelled by long-simmering negative thoughts about the partner.  You’re more likely to have such thoughts if your differences are not resolved.”  Pg 31

The final horseman, Stonewalling, is where one partner withdraws from the conflict, where he or she just tunes out and is predominantly a male thing.  Although stonewallers may appear calm by the time they tune out, Dr Gottman found that they were far from this clearly indicated by their elevated heart rates.  When interviewed later, the stonewallers reported that they were stonewalling as a means of calming themselves down and avoiding conflict but by doing so, they are also avoiding their marriage as things are more likely to be left unresolved and are left to fester and grow, finally erupting at a later time.

Whilst Criticism, Defensiveness and Contempt maybe present earlier on in a relationship, Stonewalling tends to come later on and is rarely found among newlyweds.   The first three horsemen tend to be the path that lead to Stonewalling as all the negativity built over the years pave the way to Stonewalling as means of coping.

As I mentioned, there are other predictors of divorce and you only have to read Dr Gottman’s book to see and understand where you may be or may have contaminated your marriage or relationship.

I hate to say it but it really does take two.

About Soila

Soila is the founder of The Divorce Magazine and creator of the online course – Helping Children Cope with Divorce

She is known for taking away the pain of trauma and loss in children, adolescents and their families.

Soila holds an MSc in Psychoanalytic Developmental Psychology from UCL (University College London), is an accredited Positive Parenting Program (Triple P) practitioner and a trained Family Mediator.

Soila is Graduate Member of the British Psychological Society.

You can contact her on 07850 85 60 66 or via email soila@thedivorcemagazine.co.uk 

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