According to Dr. John 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!
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.