We know that the first marriage wasn’t always a Garden-of-Eden experience, right? The first couple had their share of problems (see Genesis 3 and beyond), and contemporary couples do, too.
It usually doesn’t take long for couples to figure out that marriage is challenging, if not down right difficult at times.
In fact, the number one reason people seek the help of a counselor is due to distress in a close relationship.
Although marital difficulty doesn’t necessarily lead to divorce, it’s good to know how to recognize the warning signs.
What relationship factors predict divorce?
According to Dr. Gottman’s marriage research, the following were characteristic of couples who divorced.
- In unhappy couples, partners still made many bids for attention, closeness, or reassurance. However, they only responded to each other’s bids 33% of the time.
- Wives raised issues harshly and tended to make generalized statements, such as “You never …,” “You always …,” or “What’s wrong with you?”
- Unhappy husbands got upset more easily (as indicated by heart rate, breathing, etc.) during arguments and had a harder time calming down.
- As a result, husbands tended to shut down and become as blank as a wall or to withdraw from their wives.
- Sometimes, wives shut down and/or withdrew. It was particularly disastrous if the wife was the one to withdraw.
- In short, when arguments started with a harsh comment, 94% of the time they only got worse!
Trapped in a Cycle
Before they realize what’s happened to them, many couples develop an unhealthy cycle of interactions.
- Criticism – launching an attack on your partner by questioning his or her character, intelligence, and/or abilities
- Stonewalling – withdrawing and/or refusing to respond to your partner
- Defensiveness – reactively attacking for self-protection
- Contempt – this one is particularly toxic (Couples who show contempt, either verbally or nonverbally, for one another rarely fare well.)
Even so, Gottman found that 83% of newlyweds who criticized, stonewalled, and/or made defensive attacks were able to stabilize their marriages over time if … they learned how to make adequate repairs of the damage after the fight.