This summer has seen Jen and Ben, Miranda and Blake, Gwen and Gavin, and even Miss Piggy and Kermit announcing their divorces. Celebrities are human beings after all and struggle with the same challenges as us mere mortals.
John Gottman is one of the foremost researchers and clinicians in the areas of marriage and relationships and he has been able to predict which marriages will end in divorce with over 90% accuracy. So, what can you do to enhance your marriage…or in other words, what should you stop doing? Gottman has identified four traits predictive of divorce, known as the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Dramatic, I know…but here we go:
1. Criticism: This is framing complaints or issues in terms of your partner’s personality, as if they are flawed or defective. Criticism implies that the other person is the “problem.” Rather than criticize character focus on behaviors.
For example, your partner left dirty dishes in the sink again. A criticism would be, “You didn’t do the dishes again. You are so disrespectful. Why are you so lazy.” A better way to express your frustration would be, “I am frustrated that you did not do the dishes. Could you please try to clean up? I would really appreciate the help.”
2. Contempt: This conveys disgust towards your partner and includes eye rolling, name-calling, insults, and threats. Contempt is putting your partner down and acting superior. Rather than focusing on what your partner is doing wrong focus on what they are doing right.
If you want to get your partner to be more contentious about doing the dishes, you will most likely achieve this goal if you express appreciation when they do the dishes rather than complain when they do not.
3. Defensiveness: This is a response to proclaim your innocence or to defend against a real or perceived threat. Defensiveness dismisses your partner’s concerns and sends the message that they are the “problem.” Rather than defensiveness and blame focus on contributions and accepting responsibility. Focus on what you agree with rather than on what you disagree with.
For example, a defensive response would be, “I didn’t even eat breakfast this morning, so how could that bowl be mine?” A better response would be, “I don’t even remember leaving the bowl in the sink. I know you have asked me to be better about cleaning up. I’ll wash the bowl and be more aware in the future.”
4. Stonewalling: This is when someone remains physically present yet emotionally withdraws from the discussion, avoiding eye contact or crossing their arms. During difficult discussions, it is easy to become emotionally “flooded” and stonewalling is an attempt to calm; however, it often does not work as your partner feels ignored and your negative thoughts are racing (i.e. “I can’t believe she’s getting on my back about the dishes after the day that I’ve had! How dare she!”).
Rather than stonewalling, say, “I’m feeling frustrated and overwhelmed now, I need to take a break and return to this conversation in a few (or however long) minutes.”
If you find that the Four Horsemen are routinely making an appearance in your relationship, consider working with a therapist to help identify and alter these patterns to avoid an Apocalypse.
“Never do something permanently foolish just because you are temporarily upset.” – Unknown