Four Indicators of Marital Demise

This weekend, I mentioned in my message some fascinating research done by Dr. John Gottman on the subject of marriage. In his years of studying hundreds of marriages, he has gained some really helpful insights. Gottman states that he can observe a married couple interacting for a few minutes and determine with 91% accuracy whether that marriage will last.

How can he be so accurate? In his research, he discovered four particular types of negative interaction between husband and wife that consistently surfaced. These are so lethal that he refers to them as the “Four Horseman of the Apocalypse”.

What are these four indicators? The first is Criticism. Gottman points out that criticism is different than complaining. A complaint specifically addresses a particular behavior. A criticism on the other hand  is more global and carries with it the message, “What’s wrong with you, you idiot?” 

Having criticism in our marriage doesn’t signal inevitable divorce but it does open the door for the second indicator: Contempt. Contempt is fueled by long-simmering negative thoughts about your spouse. Common symptoms of  include sarcasm, cynicism, eye-rolling, name calling, mockery and hostile humor. Gottman points out that contempt is poisonous to a marriage because it conveys disgust. There is little hope for reconciliation when one spouse feels disgust toward or from the other.

The third indicator is Defensiveness. When receiving criticism and contempt, it is natural to feel defensive. But, as Gottman points out, that defensiveness rarely has the desired effect because it is simply a way of putting blame on your spouse, which only escalates the conflict.

The fourth indicator is Stonewalling.  No eye contact, no engagement in the conversation. The person just shuts down. It is a defense mechanism that ends all dialog. Conflicts end up being driven deep and remain unresolved. All four of these “horsemen” play off each other to create a marriage that, over time, can become impervious to genuine reconciliation.

So what are we to do with this information? For one thing, we obviously need to diligently guard our relationships from any of these creeping in to wreak havoc. Secondly, if we realize that some of these things are recurring patterns, we need to get help. There are several marriage resources at Christ Community that might be a helpful next step for you in your marriage. Call Deanne Helmboldt at church if you think a next step like this is needed.

One of things I’ve noticed over the years is the tendency to not get help until things are almost beyond repair. If we wait too long to fix a leaking roof, the damage will increase. If we wait too long to repair a cracked tooth, the pain only intensifies. The same thing is true in our marriages. If help is needed, sooner is better. Don’t be embarrassed. We all need some help in our marriages at various times in our lives.

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