Seven Principles of Making Marriage Work: Chapter 2

Chapter 2 –How I Predict Divorce

When the studied couples were in Gottman’s ‘Love Lab’, he asked them to argue and resolve a conflict. Findings showed that it is not whether they argue but how they argue that makes the difference in the relationship. There are signs of relational problems which lead to divorce:

  1. Harsh startup -  How discussions (especially emotion-laden topics) are started. Harsh startup are those conversation start-ups laden with criticism and sarcasm - which are forms of contempt.
  2. Four horsemen of the apocalypse: These are toxic to a relationship
    • Criticism – instead of a specific complaint (about a given action or situation): better to complain about the action as opposed to criticize the person for who the person is. Saying: “what’s wrong with you” is a great way to build your divorce.
    • Contempt: sarcasm and cynicism are examples of contempt and do wonders towards your divorce! It is even bad for your immune system! Contempt can be seen in things like rolling eyes, sneering, mockery and hostile humor. Contempt is the most poisonous to a relationship than any other “horsemen”. Sometimes, contempt is offered in the guise of high “moral” standards. Contempt also affects the couple’s immune system. Belligerence is similar to contempt. Contempt is fueled by long-standing negative thoughts.
    • Defensiveness: explaining/defending oneself in light of attack actually does not have the desired effect, as it tends to have an underlying blaming counter-attack, such as in: “it’s not me, it is actually you”.
    • Stonewalling: one of the partners eventually tunes out, after the aforementioned issues - because s/he is overwhelmed. No non-verbal cues of listening are given. It gives a message of “I do not care”. In 85% of cases, the stonewall-er is the husband, usually for evolutionary reasons, as the man’s physiological stress systems are more reactive and take longer to calm down, while women can soothe themselves calm faster. Women can physiologically calm down faster, and men’s physiology will more likely than women only calm itself down independently, after retaliatory action
  3. Flooding:  People stonewall to protect against flooding response to harsh startups or the Four Horsemen. Flooding is the defenseless, shell-shocked feeling after the barrage of criticisms, contempt or defensiveness. People in such states become hyper-vigilant that spouse is “just about to blow at me again”. This state of mind, only reflexive responses could be expected due to the physiological “fight-or-flight” state of the flooded partner. Only is the above factors are a routine occurrence is the marriage in dire straits. The occasional flooding can be tolerated by a stable relationship.
  4. Body language: Physiological changes during flooding (i.e. endocrine, heart-rate) can predict divorce for two reasons: 1) distress when dealing with the other; 2) hard to have a productive problem-solving discussion when distressed.
  5. Failed repair attempts {see video below}: Emotional repairs lower stress levels and conflict. But if the repair attempts not work to avoid the flooding stage of conflict, then the couple is likely going to have relational difficulties. i.e. when the four horsemen rule the pattern of the couple’s communication, then repair attempts are often not even noticed. Feedback loop: the more “four horsemen”, the more flooding, and then repair attempts are not noticed, until eventually the partner withdraws. Positive sentiment override predicts the success of repair attempts. Four horsemen predict divorce by 82%. Add in the failed-repair attempts, and prediction percentage runs in the 90s. On the other hand, having the four horsemen, but with successful repair attempts, a stable relationship is likely. But when four horsemen moved in for good, repair attempts are incredibly hard to attempt, accept or even notice.
  6. Bad memories:  When the past is re-written in a negative hue, divorce chances really go up! i.e. do you gain strength or negativity from the adversity that you weathered together. How people frame the situation could lead to further negativity or positivity or reasonability, etc…. When the couple has negatively re-written their relationship, they are at the end stage of their marriage. They could talk calmly (i.e. distantly!!!!) about their conflict. They may appear like they are doing relatively well. This calm is not to say that their conflicts were superficial, but that the couple has emotionally divorced! But such relationships could be salvaged too, i.e. not only by the communication (i.e. startups, horsemen issues) and effective repairing, but also by increasing friendship -i.e. improving things too when the couple is not fighting.

 

Final 4 stages that signal divorce:

  1. You see your marital problems as severe
  2. Talking things over seems useless – you solve problems on your own
  3. You start leading parallel lives
  4. Loneliness sets in

Gottman: couple therapy is not about negotiating skills or conflict resolution. Such approaches do not work! It is also about what people do right when they do not argue: i.e. therefore work on increasing the friendship! And that is where Gottman 7 Principles enter!

 

*24-7 Commitment regularly recommends individual and couples therapy.  It may take you finding the right counselor or therapist, but it's a highly valuable service that can work wonders for you personally and for your relationships. There is no stigma here, most of us have or are currently seeing counselors at this very moment.

 

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