by John Gottman
Gottman is a renowned relationship expert who has been working with couples for over 40 years. He is the founder and director of The Gottman Institute which houses a laboratory at the University of Washington in Seattle where “for 16 years I spearheaded the most extensive and innovative research ever into marriage and divorce.” (P.1) “I can predict whether a couple will divorce after watching and listening to them for just fifteen minutes.” (p. 5) More important for Gottman is not his research on what makes marriages fail, but on what makes them work. “At the heart of the Seven Principles approach is the simple truth that happy marriages are based on a deep friendship. By this I mean a mutual respect for and enjoyment of each other’s company.” (p.21)
Before getting into the 7 Principles for Making Marriage Work, he does spend time on how he actually predicts divorce. He suggests there are 6 key indicators. Let’s take a look.
6 Key Indicators Predicting Divorce
The First Sign: Harsh Start-Up – the way a discussion begins.
The Second Sign: The Four Horseman – Criticism, Contempt, Defensiveness and Stonewalling. (He goes into great detail how these can show up in a relationship.)
The Third Sign: Flooding. He explains: “Usually people stonewall as a protection against feeling psychologically and physically overwhelmed….It occurs when your spouse’s negativity is so intense and sudden that it leaves you shell-shocked.” (p.39/40)
The Fourth Sign: Body Language – in the lab they can monitor physical distress – heart rate, hormonal changes and blood pressure.
The Fifth Sign: Failed Repair Attempts – “Repair attempts, are efforts the couple makes to de-escalate the tension during a touchy discussion – to put on the brakes so that they can prevent flooding.” (p.45)
The Sixth Sign: Bad Memories – “When a marriage is not going well, history gets rewritten – for the worse.” (p. 47)
But even if a marriage is struggling, as he says, it’s not over till it’s over. “I was not able to crack the code to saving marriages until I started to analyze what went right in happy marriages. After tracking the lives of happily married couples for as long as twenty years, I now know that the key to reviving or divorce-proofing a relationship is not simply how you handle your disagreements but how you engage with each other when you’re not fighting. So although my Seven Principles will also guide you in coping with conflict, the basis of my approach, which forms the first three principles, is to strengthen the friendship and trust that are at the heart of any marriage.” (p.51) Over the next few weeks I’ll take a look at the 7 Principles for making marriage work.