No one gets married with the intent of getting divorced, but statistics show that once blissful couples can turn into bitter enemies over the course of time.  Wouldn’t finding an antidote for that bitterness and preventing divorce be potent medicine?  We actually do have information on what prevents divorce thanks to world renowned relationship researcher John Gottman.  He studied numerous couples and the data collected has been useful in predicting the trajectory of relationships with 94% accuracy.

If you do a Google search of what causes divorce you will find many sources that cite infidelity, growing apart/falling out of love, finances or addiction as the reason(s).  But that’s not what Gottman’s research showed.  He found four clear patterns that lead to relationship demise and he aptly named them The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

The first Horseman is criticism.  When our partner criticizes us it feels anything but constructive.  Criticism fuels fights and escalates conflict.  While it might momentarily feel good to give our partner a zinger, it’s hurtful and destructive.

The second Horseman, defensiveness, swiftly gallops in on the heels of criticism.  When we are attacked we naturally defend ourselves.  But defensiveness is really just blaming or criticism in disguise.

Gottman calls the third Horseman contempt, the sulfuric acid of love and the best predictor of divorce.  Contempt is about having an air of superiority over our partner and belittling their character.

Stonewalling, aka the silent treatment, is the fourth Horseman.  When one is angry and ready to fight but their partner is shutting down, it truly is like hitting a stone wall.  Anger gets more inflamed and shutting down turns into running away.

The Four Horsemen are toxic to any relationship and unless couples learn effective antidotes, relationship demise may be on the horizon.  If the Four Horsemen are hanging around your house it may be time to get rid of these unwanted guests.

Mary Beth George, MEd, LPC, RD/LD

Certified Gottman Therapist