Monday, June 14, 2010

Interactions that Lead to Divorce

In studying thousands of couples over more than 35 years, John Gottman, Ph.D. of The Gottman Relationship Institute (, has uncovered four relationship interactions that lead to divorce.  Named the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, these communication patterns, if repeated over and over, have a 90% change of leading to divorce.

People use criticism to blame and attack their partners character.  The focus is on the person and not the undesirable behavior.  Criticism statements will begin with the words, "you always" or "you never".

Examples: "You always hurt my feelings",  "You never take me out anymore"

Contempt-intense negative interactions
Contempt accompanies or will follow criticism in a heated exchange.  Disrespectful statements meant to psychologically abuse a loved one display contempt.  Through verbal and non-verbal means, contempt sends the message of disgust and worthlessness to your partner.  

Examples: Sarcasm, hostile humor, mockery

Defensiveness-biological response to criticism and contempt
In the face verbal attacks loaded with criticism and contempt, people have a natural tendency to defend themselves.  Defensiveness occurs when the pain from being unfairly judged, blamed, and harassed reaches its emotional limit.  

Examples:  Denying responsibility, making excuses, repeating statements, and counter-complaining   

Stonewalling-another defensive tactic 
As the name implies, stonewalling occurs when a wall (physical or psychological) is up to block communication.  Used to diffuse conflict, stonewalling in reality escalates conflict.  The attacker then feels ignored or disrespected, responds with criticism, and the cycle continues.

Examples: Ignoring, leaving the room, physical barrier between you and your partner 

Although difficult to break, these patterns can be changed.  Working on communication and learning to focus on behavior and not character can slowly repair the damage.  Refer to the books below for additional information: