According to Dr. John Gottman, a well known author on couples counseling and relationship therapy, there are four predictors of divorce. These are not simply problems in a relationship, but he emphasizes, actual predictors of divorce.
They are: Criticism, Defensiveness, Withdrawal and Contempt.
Criticism is by far the most common problem that predicts the demise of a relationship. It is said that most people have had a critical parent. Continuing this pattern where you are criticized as an adult, is not healthy or good for the relationship. It can trigger old wounds. Even without a critical parent, criticism feels uncomfortable and unsupportive. To counteract criticism, try and change the criticism to a desire. For example, instead of “Your always late” you could say, “I really appreciate it when you are on time or early, that way I don’t worry about you”. Or instead of “You always leave your wet towels on the bathroom floor”, try “I like it when I walk in the bathroom and there are no wet towels on the floor. I especially appreciate you taking the time to do that, knowing it bothers me”.
Defensiveness is when we respond in a way to protect ourselves by attacking or pulling back from our partner. It’s the fight or flight response. Defensiveness is when we perceive we have been criticized and we cut our partners off. Instead, try and hear your partner out. You may want to repeat the criticism and even ask for more information. The goal is to be present, hear your partners frustration, and then discuss in a rational way, what can be done about the situation. It’s about being accountable, and coming to a solution where both are being heard and respected. For example, if your partner claims “I don’t think we’re having enough sex”, instead of attacking him/ her with how you think it’s not your fault, or how they are never available and how they are never home and always tired etc…you could repeat the perceived problem, “So, you don’t think we’re having enough sex?” and then say “tell me more” (about how they feel) and stay with this until you have heard your partners side and discuss until you both come to a better understanding of the problem and how it can be resolved.
Withdrawal is done in many ways by physically or emotionally not being present. This could be due to addiction, poor coping skills, fear of conflict, or passive aggressive behavior. It could look like anything that replaces spending quality time together. This could look like drinking, affairs, being a workaholic or spending an excessive amount of free time wrapped up in hobbies or activities that take away from a relationship. Instead, look at the effort you put in your relationship, knowing that it’s up to both people to be present and make it work. That the more you put in, the more you will benefit.
Contempt is harboring negative feelings towards your partner for a significant amount of time. It’s being mad for days and holding them in your heart in a bad place. Instead, try and resolve conflict and negative feelings towards each other quickly. Some people agree never to go to bed angry with each other. You might also think twice about complaining to others about your partner unless your friends can let you vent without holding resentment after you make up.
Being mindful of these predictors, can boost your self -esteem knowing you are doing your part in making the relationship work. Knowing how to replace the predictors of divorce with what to do instead , gives you skills to keep the relationship positive, happy and healthy. Keeping it healthy promotes better communication, trust and more intimacy.
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