Category Archives: Marriage & Divorce

Six Signs that Your Marriage is on a Diaster Course

According to John Gottman in The Seven for Making Marriage Work there are six signs that your marriage is heading for Divorce. These include:

1. Harsh startup –starting a discussion in a negative accusatory manner, with criticism or contempt–more likely if it starts with a harsh start-up it will end on a negative note; statistics say, you can predict the outcome of a conversation based on the first 3 minutes–a harsh startup dooms you to failure

2. The four horsemen

criticism–most complain about the person you live with–complaint different than criticism. Complaint–addresses a specific action at which our spouse failed. Criticism more global–it adds some negative words about your mate’s character or personality, pp. 24-25. “You never remember to do the things I want you to do. You are so irresponsible.”

contempt–sarcasm, cynicism, name-calling, sneering, mockery & hostile humor. It is the worst of the four horsemen– is poisonous to a relationship because it conveys disgust. It is virtually impossible to resolve a problem when your partner is getting the message you’re disgusted with him/her. Fueled by long simmering negative thoughts about your partner

defensive–approach rarely has the desired effect; the attacking spouse usually does not back down or apologize, just escalates conflict.

stonewalling–when a discussion begins with harsh startup, where criticism & contempt lead to defensiveness, eventually one partner will tune out, e.g. Ignoring, reading the newspaper, walking out, sitting as a passive stone wall, acting as if he could care less about what you are saying, most common among men, arrives later in the marriage, after the other 3.

3. Flooding-people usually stonewall in response to feeling flooded–means your spouse’s negativity whether in the guise of criticism or contempt or even defensiveness, is so overwhelming, and so sudden that it leaves you shell-shocked. You feel so defenseless against this sniper attack that you learn to do anything to avoid a replay. The more often you feel flooded by your spouse’s criticism or contempt, the more hyper vigilant you are for cues that your spouse is about to “blow” again. All you think about is protecting yourself from the turbulence of your spouse’s onslaught. The way to do this is to disengage emotionally from the relationship. In one example the spouse could not handle the hostility, shutting down, eventually this lead to divorce.

4. Body language–in conflict physiological changes include–increased heart rate–100-165 beat per minute (for a man about 30 norm is about 76, woman–82), hormonal changes, secretion of adrenaline, which kicks in the fight or flight response.

-points out that in 85% of marriages the stonewaller is the husband

-reason lies in evolutionary heritage, stemming from gender roles

-amount of milk women produced related to how relaxed she feels, which is related to oxytocin in`the brain–women can quickly calm down after feeling stressed. Her ability to remain composed could enhance her children’s chances of survival optimizing the amount of nutrition they received.

-to this day the male cardiovascular system remains more reactive than the female and slower to recover from stress. For example if a man & woman hear a sudden loud sound, his heart will beat faster than hers and stay accelerated for longer. The same for blood pressure. Says in experiment in which males were treated rudely & then told to relax, their blood pressure surges and stays elevated until they get to retaliate by contrast to women who were able to calm down (rises if she is pressured into retaliating).

-men also tend to have negative thoughts that maintain their distress levels, women likely to think soothing thoughts that help them calm down and be conciliatory–stonewalling is a defense mechanism.

When the four horsemen take up permanent resident, the couple feel no longer connected to each other give. This puts the marriage is in serious trouble.

5. failed repair attempts–The failure of repair attempts is an accurate marker for an unhappy future. The presence of the 4 horsemen alone predicts divorce with an 82% accuracy. But when you add in the failure of repair attempts, the accuracy rate reaches in the 90s. Usually when the 4 horsemen are present but the couple’s repair attempts are successful–the result is a stable happy marriage. If their are none or the attempts are unable to be heard the marriage is in serious danger.

6. Bad memories–Most couples enter marriage with high hopes & great expectations. In a happy marriage couples tend to look back on their early days fondly. Even if the wedding didn’t go perfectly, they tend to remember the highlights rather than the low points. When the marriage is not going well, history gets rewritten for the worse–focus on the bad things. Another bad sign is when you find the past difficult to remember–it has become so unimportant or painful that you’ve let it fade away.
Are any of  these signs prevalent in your marriage?

An Excellent read for how to prevent divorce, see John Gottman’s The Seven Principle for Making Marriage Work.

Seven Principles for Saving Your Marriage

According to John Gottman in The Seven Principles for Making  Work, you can preserve your marriage if you do the following:

1. Enhance your love maps–Emotionally intelligent couples are intimately familiar with each other’s worlds–that part of the brain where you store all the relevant information about your partner’s life. From knowledge springs forth not only love but the fortitude to weather marital storms–couples with detailed love maps of each other’s worlds are better prepared to cope with stressful events & conflict, particularly after the birth of the child. Even those who are busy make each other their priority, always making sure that they have time to catch up on each other’s day, go out once a week etc.

Questionnaires in the book include: Love maps questionnaire, Exercises: 1. love map 20 question game, 2. make your own love maps, 3. Who Am I?

2. Nurture your fondness & admiration-if a couple still has a functioning fondness & admiration system their marriage is salvageable. The individuals feel that the person they married despite their flaws is worthy of honor & respect. These two elements are also crucial in a rewarding & long lasting romance. You can learn from history, remember past good experiences to help with this. Another note– people who are happily married like each other. By reminding yourself of your spouse’s positive qualities, even as you grapple with each other’s flaws, you can prevent a happy marriage from deteriorating.

Questionnaire: Fondness & admiration questionnaire, Exercises: 1. “I appreciate. . .”2. The history & philosophy of your marriage, 3. Seven week course in fondness & admiration

3. Turn Towards each other instead of away-Engaging in lots of chit-chat–What’s happening in these exchanges is that the husband & wife are connecting–they are turning toward each other

-it is kept alive each time you let your spouse know he or she is valued during the grind of everyday life, e.g. leaving message on voice mail, chit-chat in the morning about dream, etc.

-it is bids for one’s partners attention, affection humor or support.

-turning toward each other is the basis of emotional connection, romance, passion, & a good sex life.

Couples who turn toward each other remain emotionally engaged, it is like putting money in the bank, they are building up emotional savings that can serve as a cushion when times get rough, when they’re faced with a major life stress or conflict.

Questionnaire–Is your marriage primed for romance? Exercises: 1. The Emotional Bank account, 2. the stress reducing conversation 3. What to do when your spouse doesn’t turn toward you.

4. Let your partner influence you— more of an issue for men. His data suggest that a vast majority of wives let their husbands influence them. Women are more oriented toward discussing and understanding feelings than men, they are more emotionally intelligent than their husbands, primarily because they have had an enormous head start in acquiring these skills. Girl’s play emphasizes social interactions and feelings, thereby socializing them toward relationships.

-it was found that in the first few months of marriage, men who allow their wives to influence them have happier marriages & are less likely to divorce than men who resist their wives’ influence. When a man is not willing to share power with his partner, there is an 81% chance that this marriage will self destruct.

-the most happiest, most stable marriages in the long run were those where the husband treated his wife with respect & did not resist power sharing & decision making with her. Emotionally intelligent husband learns how to honor his wife & convey his respect to her.

Questionnaire: Accepting influence; Exercises: 1. Yield to win, 2. The Gottman Island Survival game

5. Solve your solvable problems – two types of marital conflict– a. Solvable–those that can be solved, b. Perpetual–those that will be a part of your lives forever, in some form or another.

Perpetual–69% of marital problems fall into this category, e.g. one spouse wanting children the other not ready, don’t know if ever will be, one wants sex more than the other, one is lax about housework and rarely does their share, while the other nags them about it, differences in parenting styles.

Though there are differences some couples remain satisfied with their marriages because they have discovered a way to deal with their “unbudgeable” problem so it doesn’t overwhelm them.

-They’ve learned how to keep it in its place and to have a sense of humor about it, or simply relate good “naturedly” about what happens. (Someone being late all the time)

When choosing a long-term partner, you will inevitably be choosing a particular set of unsolvable problems that you’ll be grappling with for the next 10, 20 or 50 years. Marriages are successful to the degree that the problems you choose are the ones you can cope with.


Questionnaires 1. Assessing your marital conflicts, Exercises: 1. Telling the difference, 2. Your last argument

Key to all Conflict resolution–communicating basic acceptance of your partner’s personality. Human nature dictates that it is virtually impossible to accept advice from someone unless you feel that the person understands you. Must make him/her feel accepted and understood by you. They must not feel judged, misunderstood or rejected.

6. Overcome gridlock–stems from perpetual problems; signs as stated above. The goal is not to solve the problem but rather to move from gridlock to dialogue. The gridlock conflict will probably always be a perpetual issue in your marriage, but one day you will be able to talk about it w/o hurting each other. You will learn to live with the problem. Key is to understand it’s cause. Gridlock is a sign that you have dreams for your life that aren’t being addressed or respected by each other. By dreams it is meant the hopes, aspirations & wishes that are part of your identity & give purpose & meaning to your life. List, p. 218.

-If you’ve reached gridlock on any issue, big or small, the first step is to identify which dream or dreams are fueling the conflict.

-one good indicator is that you are wrestling with a hidden dream is that you see your spouse as being the sole source of the marital problem.

-If you find yourself saying for example that the problem is simply that he is a slob, or she is just irresponsible or overly demanding, that may be a sign of a hidden dream. It may indicate that you don’t see your part in creating the conflict because it has been hidden from view

-uncovering a hidden dream is a challenge; the dream is unlikely to emerge until you find a safe place to talk about it–be patient, acknowledging & advocating for your dreams in a marriage is not easy

(For Steps  on how to overcome gridlock see link for the book below)

7. Create shared meaning–if you are asking yourself “Is that all there is?” you may be missing a deeper sense of shared meaning. Marriage isn’t about just raising children, splitting chores & making love. It can also have a spiritual dimension that has to do with creating an inner life together–a culture rich with symbols & rituals & an appreciation for your roles & goals that link you. Doesn’t necessary mean couple sees eye to eye on every aspect of their life’s philosophy, instead there is a meshing. They find a way of honoring each other’s dream even if they don’t always share them. The culture they develop together incorporates both their dreams. And it is flexible enough to change as husband & wife grow & develop.

Questionnaire: Shared meaning questionnaire

1. Family rituals–dinner together, those recognized on holidays, or special events, things that come from family history. Can create what your own your family lacked. Exercise 1 Rituals

2. Your roles in life–Your marriage will feel deeper to the degree that your expectations of each other–what you feel your wife’s or husband’s place in the family ought to be–are similar–not simply whose responsible for washing dishes, but deeper feelings about what you expect of yourself & your spouse, e.g. protector, provider, nurturer, egalitarian where both husband & wife support each other emotionally & financially. Similar views about parenting, also adds meaning to marriage, the meaning you attach to your work, etc. The extent to which you feel similar about these issues your marriage will be strengthened. Exercise 2. Roles

3. Personal goals–practical like earning an income but also more spiritual goals, e.g., to find peace and healing after a tumultuous, abusive childhood, to raise children who are good hearted & generous. Not only will you increase the intimacy of your marriage by sharing your deepest goals, but to the extent that you work together to achieve these shared goals, they can be a path toward making your union even richer. Exercise 3. Goals

4. Shared symbols–often literally objects–that represent the values and beliefs you share, e.g. religious icons, things saved up for years to purchase, things built yourselves, children’s items, pictures, stories. Exercise 4 symbols

The book is filled with many questionnaires and much more information on how to make your marriage work.  A must read for married couples. Can also help those who are not married.

Source: The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, John Gottman