In The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, Dr. John Gottman lists the six things that predict divorce. This ability to predict divorce is based in part on his analysis of 124 newlywed couples (married less than 6 months) who were observed at the “Love Lab” apartment at the University of Washington.
The study involved observing the couples try to resolve an ongoing disagreement they were having for 15 minutes. During this time, experimenters videotaped the couple’s interaction and collected continuous physiological measures such as heart rate, breathing, and skin conductance. Here is what Dr. Gottman and his team of researchers discovered.
1. Harsh Startup
When a discussion starts off with criticism and/or sarcasm, it has began with a “harsh startup.” His research shows that if a discussion begins with a harsh startup, it will inevitably end on a negative note. Based the first 3 minutes of such a conversation, Dr. Gottman was able to predict the marital outcome over a six-year period.
2. The Four Horsemen
The Four Horseman are criticism, defensiveness, contempt, and stonewalling. If allowed to run rampant, they are so lethal to a relationship that it will be doomed to fail.
Flooding is brought on by the continual presence of the four horsemen during disagreement. It is a physiological event where a person’s heart rate reaches about 100 beats per minute. He is flushed and his breathing is hard. He is at the verge of loosing it.
4. Body Language
The physical sensations of feeling flooded make it virtually impossible to have a productive, problem-solving discussion. If the conflict discussion continues, this condition will only worsen. He will either stonewall (disengage emotionally) or fly into a rage.
5. Failed Repair Attempts
Repair attempts are efforts the couple makes to deescalate the tension during a discussion. It can be any statement or action – silly or otherwise. The failure of these attempts is an accurate marker for an unhappy future.
6. Bad Memories
In a happy marriage, couples tend to look back on their early days fondly. They remember how positive they felt early on, how excited they were when they met, and how much admiration they had for each other. When they talk about tough times they’ve had, they glorify the struggles they’ve been through, drawing strength from the adversity they weathered together.
Written by Parcsen Loke. Parcsen Loke is the Deputy Head of Programmes and Development at Centre for Fathering. He is married and has three children (26, 24, and 13) with his wife Kelly.
Feel free to contact Parcsen if you wish to find out more about the subject matter contained in this article.