The late Robin Williams had this to say about divorce: “Ah, yes, divorce, from the Latin word meaning to rip out a man’s genitals through his wallet.” Of course, some jerks deserve an expensive marital dissolution. Particularly guys who physically abuse their wives or indiscriminately cheat. But on balance, divorce is no picnic for either party.
We all know people who have navigated through the crucible of marital strife. Perhaps you’ve been there yourself? Wouldn’t it be nice to have a full proof way to predict the success or failure of a marriage? Well, one guy has come pretty close.
Meet Dr. John Gottman, a psychology professor who has researched marital stability and relationships. Dr. Gottman developed the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.” These four predictors of divorce are: Criticism, Defensiveness, Stonewalling and Contempt. Dr. Gottman considers “contempt” to be the most important predictor of all.
Dr. Gottman reported over 90% accuracy in predicting the success or failure of a marriage. He identified what he called the “Masters” and “Disasters” of relationships. Masters succeeded in their marriages because they were gentle with one another and took responsibility for some part of the problem. Disasters were critical of one another and would diagnose their spouse’s defects.
Masters were open to constructive feedback whereas Disasters were defensive and whining. Disasters wielded contempt, often defined as “any statement made to your partner from a superior place.” Stonewallers would withdraw from the conversation and tune out. Stonewallers generally wanted to calm down and not make the situation worse.
Looking at couples over a long period of time, Dr. Gottman concluded that all relationships experience conflict and periods of alienation. But the Masters were able to “repair” their relationships. The “quality of the friendship” in the relationship played a big part in its survival. To view Dr. Gottman discussing these observations click HERE.
Certainly men and women approach things differently. For example, I’ve noticed that a lot of guys like to zone out and relax after a long day at work. Many women want to connect and talk at the end of their work day. Reconnection, emotional support and mutual validation are important. The trick to getting it right usually comes down to timing. It also means turning off the TV, putting down the newspaper, making eye contact and really listening to your spouse.
Some psychologists have challenged Dr. Gottman’s research and question his conclusions. Whether you accept the validity of the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” or not, there’s no question you should avoid criticism, defensiveness, stonewalling and especially contempt in your marriage. Because if you don’t, you might experience Robin Williams’ definition of divorce first hand.