Avoid these four behaviours that can lead to divorce
August 2015  Issue #50

Today's Topic:  Four behaviours that can lead to divorce

Dear friends,

Today I'm packing in preparation for a long-anticipated trip to Europe with my husband. It has been a very busy summer for me and I have had little time for article writing.  

So instead I'm sending a little video clip for you to enjoy and reflect on.  It's based on the work of Dr. John Gottman, who has contributed so greatly to our understanding of couple dynamics, both positive and negative.

A little background

For many years, Dr. Gottman has been studying the behaviour of married couples in his “Love Lab” – an apartment in Seattle that is outfitted with cameras and recording equipment.  Couples are invited to stay in this apartment and their daily interactions are filmed and then studied.  (And no, they don’t film in the bedroom.) 

Here’s what I found amazing!  From watching and listening to a couple argue for as little as 5 minutes, Gottman can predict (with 91% accuracy in three studies) whether or not that couple will split up.  His predictions are based on the information he has gathered over many years of observing and analyzing how couples interact – and then following which couples stay together and which couples divorce. Gottman doesn’t claim to be psychic – rather he says he has learned (through observation) the key ingredients in the marriages that last and in those that fail.

What to avoid

Gottman goes on to identify characteristic ways that couples argue, which are most likely to lead to divorce. These include such things as criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stone-walling (refusing to engage).  He refers to them as the "Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse". All four have a terribly corrosive effect on a relationship.   

This short video talks about those four behaviours and the antidote to each one.  It's quite brief, however a lot of information is packed into it. If it's relevant to you, you may want to watch it more than once.

When clients talk with me about disputes or arguments they have had with their partner, often one of these four dynamics is at play.  If you struggle with criticism, contempt, defensiveness or stone-walling in your relationship, I hope this is helpful.  For a more in-depth treatment of the topic check out Gottman's books The Seven Principles For Making Marriage Work or Why Marriages Succeed Or Fail And How To Make Yours Last.  You can also check out my past articles on The Many Faces of Defensiveness and When it’s time to stop arguing: Understanding “flooding”  which are inspired by Gottman's work.

 Here's to a harmonious wrap-up to your summer!  


Shirley Vollett BSW PCC is a Life and Relationship Coach, with over 25 years of combined experience in counselling and coaching. She delights in helping pro-active individuals make positive changes in their lives, their work and their relationships. Her Conscious Dating Program helps single and divorced individuals improve their relationship skills, avoid past mistakes and make healthy dating and relationship choices. Contact Shirley for a complimentary intro phone session. If you are experiencing a challenge or are eager to make some changes, explore how coaching works and how she can help. Visit her website.
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