Why do some couples stay married, while others get divorced?
The answers to this complex question are as varied as the couples themselves. However, well-respected research done by a team of psychologists sheds some light on the common traits that can foster unhappiness in a marriage.
The team, lead by John Gottman, recorded 80 couples talking about a recent argument and made note of the types of interactions. During this process, the team made a startling discovery, according to the Scientific American: as few as four behaviors “could be used to predict which couples would still be married 14 years later – with 93% accuracy.”
These “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse,” as they were called, are toxic to a marriage.
If you are noting the following four behaviors in your marriage—whether on your part or your spouse’s—it might be time to evaluate your relationship and seek counseling if necessary.
- Contempt: All couples have disagreements, and anger between spouses doesn’t necessarily signal divorce. Contempt, or anger mixed with disgust, can be extremely detrimental to a relationship. When expressed, it demonstrates that one spouse doesn’t respect the other.
- Criticism: The occasional complaint about one spouse forgetting to unload the dishwasher is normal. Criticism, on the other hand, “involves turning…complaints into some sort of ‘defect’ about [a] partner’s personality.” While a complaint focuses on a behavior, criticism attacks the person directly, which can lead to a lack of respect and contempt.
- Defensiveness: It’s completely natural for both spouses to believe they are right during a disagreement. However, this behavior becomes toxic when one spouse consistently blames the other for everything that goes wrong in the relationship, never taking any responsibility.
- Stonewalling: Stonewalling involves one partner tuning out during a disagreement, whether by not responding, texting, leaving the room, or turning on the TV. This behavior is a serious problem because it prevents communication and leads the non-stonewalling spouse to feel devalued.
The behaviors do not have to be a death knell for your marriage. The researchers in the Scientific American article suggest taking specific steps to combat these behaviors, including the following:
- Phrase complaints in terms of a situation or behavior, instead of in terms of your partner’s personality.
- Accept responsibility for any part you’ve played in a conflict. This doesn’t mean accepting all of the blame when it’s not warranted; it simply means recognizing that neither spouse is always blameless.
- Create a “culture of appreciation” so that you and your spouse see each other with love and respect, instead of contempt. Make the effort to value your partner’s interests, hobbies, and contributions.
- If you are someone who tends to stonewall because a fight is too stimulating, take steps to relax. Take deep breaths and try to remain engaged in the conversation.
Of course, only you will best know whether your marriage can be repaired. If you find that divorce may be the right option in your situation, contact an experienced Charleston, SC divorce lawyer for help.