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.