SUSAN SOSA, M.A., MFT Licensed California Marriage & Family Therapist License #39341.
Individual, Couple & Adolescent Psychotherapy. Offices in Sherman Oaks & Beverly Hills, CA .    Email:  Phone: 818.919.4061

Your Subtitle text
Predicting Divorce


John Gottman has spent years studying marriages - both marriages that
have endured, and marriages that have eventually ended in divorce. He
studied marriages with the intent of uncovering the reasons why some
marriages work and why other marriages fail.

After studying marriages for 16 years, he has learned to predict which
couples will eventually divorce and which will remain married. He can make
this prediction based on the ways couples argue, after listening to the couple
for just five minutes, with 91% accuracy.  He can make these predictions with
such a high degree of accuracy because he has discoveed which behaviors will
lead to a breakup of the marriage.  He has pinpointed five signs that a couple
will most likely suffer a future break-up.

 The First Sign: A Harsh Startup

The first of these signs that will predict divorce is the way the discussion begins,
because 96% of the time the way a discusseion begins can predict the way it will
end.  When one partner begins the discussion using a harsh startup, such as being 
negative, accusatory or using contemp, the discusseion is basically doomed to fail. 
On the oter hand, when one partner begins the discussion using a softened startup,
the discussion will most likely end on the same positive tone.

The Second Sign: The Four Horsemen

 A harsh startup can lead the couple's discussion down a path of negative
interaction. This type of negativity can wreak havoc on a marriage. Indeed,
there are four types of negative interactions that are so lethal to a marriage
that Gottman has labeled them the Four Horseme of Apocalypse. "Usually
these four horsemen clip-clop into the heart of a marriage in the
following order: criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling".

The first of the lethal horsemen is criticism. Gottman distinguishes between
criticism and complaints, because one partner will always have certain
complaints about his or her spouse.  Complaining about one's spouse is
normal, however, the way one goes about expressing these complaints is
most important. The problem arises when complaints turn into criticisms.
A complaint focuses on a specific behavior, while a criticism
attacks the
character of the person. An example of the difference between a complaint
and a criticism is the following:

Complaint: "You should have told me earlier that you're too tired to make
love. I'm disappointed, and I feel embarrassed."

"Why are you so selfish? It was really nasty of you to lead me on.
You should have told me earlier that you were too tired to make love."

Criticism is very common in relationships, and when used often, can lead to
the second horseman.

The second horseman, contempt, often follows criticism. Criticism can lead
to contemptuous comments directed at one's partner. Some examples of
contempt are when a person uses "sarcasm, cynicism, name-calling, eyerolling,
sneering, mockery, and hostile humor".  Contempt is the worst of the four
because it communicates disgust to the person it is directed
toward. As a result, the conflict escalates. It becomes impossible to solve
a problem when the message being sent is that one partner is disgusted
with the other.

Typically, when one partner uses contempt, the other partner becomes
defensive , which is the third horseman. Becoming defensive is a very
common reaction to being treated with contempt. Many people become
defensive when they are being criticized, but the problem is that it never
helps solve the problem at hand. "Defensiveness is really a way of blaming
your partner. You're saying, in effect, the problem isn't me, it's you".
As a result, the problem is not resolved and the conflict escalates further.

The escalating conflict usually leads to one partner tuning out the other, and
is the sign that the fourth horseman, stonewalling, has arrived. Usually
when the first three horsemen are used in a discussion - criticism, contempt
and defensiveness - following a harsh startup, one partner will tune the other
partner out.

Stonewalling is more common in men than in women.  It is a way for
them to avoid the feeling of being flooded that usually occurs when a conflict
escalates. The stonewaller tends to ignore his partner and does not give any
signs of responsiveness, which makes his spouse even angrier. This behavior
tends to enter marriages later, once couples have had a significant period of
negative override. "It takes time for the negativity created by the first three
horsemen to become overwhelming enough that stonewalling becomes an
understandable out". Each of these four horsemen can predict divorce by
themselves, but typically they are found together in an unhappy marriage.

The Third Sign: Flooding

The third sign that signals a marriage is headed toward divorce is when one
partner becomes flooded. "Flooding means that 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". Many
people protect themselves from feeling flooded by disengaging, or
stonewalling. This emotional disengagement can protect one from
these intense feelings of negativity, but as the same time it can also
lead to divorce.

The Fourth Sign: Body Language

Physiological changes in the body that coincide with flooding, such as an
increased heart rate, the secretion of adrenalin, and an increase in blood
pressure, are the fourth sign that enables Gottman to predict divorce. These
physiological changes in the body make it impossible to maintain the

Your ability to process information is reduced, meaning it's harder to pay
attention to what your partner is saying. Creative problem solving goes
out the window. You're left with the most reflexive, intellectually
sophisticated responses in your repertoire: to fight (act critical,
contemptuous, or defensive) or flee (stonewall).

A problem solving discussion that leads to one or both partners becoming
flooded is doomed to fail. Consequently, their problem cannot be resolved.

The Fifth Sign: Failed Repair Attempts

The fifth sign that a marriage is bound to end in divorce is when one
partner's attempts at repairing the conflict fails. Repair attempts are
efforts made by the couple to deescalate the conflict. The "repair attempt"
the happy couple's secret weapon. This refers to using any method of
preventing the negative emotions from spiraling out of control. A repair
attempt can be a simple gesture such as a laugh, a smile or an apology;
anything that helps the couple ease the tension. However, if one partner is
feeling flooded, these repair attempts will be unsuccessful. The flooded
partner disengages from the discussion, making repair attempts futile.

The Sixth Sign: Bad Memories

The final sign that divorce is inevitable is when the couple recalls their past
life with a negative view.  "Couples who are deeply entrenched in a
negative view of their spouse often rewrite their past”. Excess negativity
leads to a distorted perception that can affect the past, present
and future of a relationship.