Divorce Predictors: The 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse
How do you know if a relationship is headed for divorce?
Relationships can go from honeymoon phase to falling apart in a span of a few months or years, leaving us wondering what went wrong. Being aware of certain divorce predictors and indicators can help you make the right decisions and feel happier and more secured in your relationship.
4 Most Destructive Predictors of Divorce
In his research, relationship expert John Gottman discovered four negative behaviours that have a 93% chance of resulting to the end of a relationship, known as the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling.
The first horseman, criticism, is the most commonly used by couples in conflict. Criticism becomes destructive in a relationship when it is used to attack your partner’s character. There is a big difference between a criticism and just offering a critique or complaint. Saying, “It frustrates me when you’re running late and don’t call to inform me,” is an example of a complaint and the critique is directed only at your partner’s behavior. But when you say, “You never respect other people’s time,” it targets your partners personality and character.
Often, when arguments arise, we tend to bring out in the open our partner’s negative traits, and this only heats up the fight. If this behaviour becomes a habit, it could make your partner feel rejected or assaulted, prompting him/her to respond defensively. Neither person will feel heard or appreciated and both may feel bad about themselves whenever you are together.
Once criticism becomes pervasive and escalates with greater intensity, it will eventually lead to the second horseman: contempt.
This happens when we begin to communicate with disrespect and disgust, rolling your eyes at your partner, sneering, ridiculing and calling him/her names. While criticism is an attack on a person’s character, contempt is when you put yourself in a position of moral superiority over your partner. According to Gottman, contempt is the single greatest predictor of separation and should be avoided at all cost.
Contempt can destroy any feelings of admiration and fondness in a relationship. You and your partner should actively work in building a culture of appreciation and find positive ways on how you can let your partner know how you feel.
During conflict, couples are often on the defensive side. It’s easy to fall into this behaviour whenever you feel you are unjustly accused. You play victim and look for excuses and counter-arguments to throw at your partner so he/she will let his/her defenses down.
This behaviour is often a response to criticism but can have a negative effect on a relationship. When you are being defensive, you are rejecting your responsibility for your part in the problem. You blame your partner and you start to tune out what he/she is saying. Your partner would then reverse the blame and direct it at you, and the conflict only escalates.
It is often a challenge to be the first one to apologize, especially if you’re the one being attacked. But the defensive approach is not a healthy way to manage conflict. The best way is to understand where your partner is coming from and to accept your responsibility and admit your fault.
Stonewalling is the most frustrating of all four horsemen. This happens when, instead of confronting your issues as a couple, your partner ignores you, walks away or talks on the phone, completely shutting down and withdrawing from the conversation. Those who “stonewall” have often become overwhelmed by the three horsemen mentioned above and it can simply be a way to calm themselves after a big fight. But this behaviour can be destructive if it happens frequently. If you are stonewalling, your partner will assume that you don’t care enough about the problem to be willing to fix it. This could signal your partner that you are pulling away from the relationship and refusing to work your issues out.
If you think you and your partner are starting to feel emotionally overwhelmed, you can agree to take a break and discuss the matter when you are calmer and more relaxed. Twenty to thirty minutes is enough to do something that soothes you, maybe go for a walk alone or read a book. Then go back to the conversation when you feel that you are ready.
If you and your partner often engage in the following behaviours, don’t feel frustrated. Remember that it’s normal for couples to criticise, be defensive, be contemptuous and stonewall at times. It may seem unfixable at first but there are antidotes that will counteract the negativity in a relationship.
If you feel that you and your partner are constantly communicating in a negative way and are unable to manage your conflict in a healthy manner, seeking the help of a counselor can help you learn other ways to communicate effectively. Book a session with me and contact me at 0403 747 626 or fill in our contact form.