If you haven’t heard of John Gottman, or don’t know who he is, think of him as the ‘father’ of marriage counseling and relationships. John Gottman is most commonly known for his ability to predict if a couple will divorce with over a 90% accuracy rate, within 15 minutes of observing their interactions. How does he do this? John Gottman has been studying couples for over 40 years in his Love Lab at the University of Washington. When observing couples, he focuses on facial expressions, the tone of their voices, and whether their words are positive, negative or neutral. He calls this his ‘Specific Affect Coding System.’ By examining the behaviors of couples discussing areas of conflict, John Gottman has come up with the six (6) most common predictors of divorce, and they may not be what you would typically think.
John Gottman’s Six Predictors of Divorce
- A Harsh Start Up: Couples that started conversations “softer” were less likely to divorce. This means focusing on complaining and not blaming, being polite and appreciative your partner, describing what is happening without judging, using “I” statements and not “you” statements, and avoiding storing or letting problems build up overtime. Gottman believes that you can predict the outcome of a conversation based on the first three minutes of the interaction.
- The Four Housemen: The Four Housemen is the nickname given by Gottman to the deadly combination of “criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling.” These four negative qualities can make their way into a marriage and will completely destroy it.
- Flooding: Have you ever been in an argument with someone, and all the sudden you get a feeling of being ‘shell-shocked’ or almost paralyzed? That is what Flooding is. Flooding occurs when your partner’s negativity (manifested in one of the Four Horsemen) is so overwhelming that you can’t help but feel this way.
- Body Language: The effect that Flooding can have on your body includes changes in hormone levels from the secretion of adrenaline, as well as an increase in blood pressure. These changes can make it highly challenging to have a productive conversation. In addition, just facial expressions, and body movements can impact how another person feels and perceives your words.
- Failed Repair Attempts: John Gottman believes that it is easy to tell from one conversation the cycle or pattern that couples typically follow when they argue. That being said, it is easy to determine if they have developed effective methods of repairing the relationship following the argument, and if they are able to deescalate their emotions during or following the argument.
- Bad Memories: How couples view past events can be a large indicator for the prediction of divorce. Couples in a good place often look back on memories with fondness and admiration, and are even able to talk about the tough times in a more positive light- as if it caused them to become stronger. When a couple is unable to come up with one single good memory, it is often referred to as ‘negative sentiment override’ and can be a fatal sign in the relationship.
** It is important to note that these are not the reasons that people get divorced. These are simply the behaviors and traits that are present in couples that ultimately end up getting divorced.
Sound Like You and Your Spouse? Here Are Some Ideas:
Although the 93% accuracy rate for prediction sounds like an efficient and easy way to determine if your relationship is worth salvaging, it’s going to cost you a pretty penny. A visit to the Love Lab in Seattle can cost you anywhere from $5,000 to an upwards of $20,000 for a few days of couple’s counseling, and full analysis of your relationship. This does not even include the cost of traveling and taking time off. If you are looking for something more easily accessible, his website is a great resource for information on relationship help, ways to improve relationship, as well as information on emotion coaching and parenting. His website is full of card games for couples, quizzes, books, a blog, webinars, information about couple’s retreats and more.
John Gottman Deems that the Following Principles are Key in Repairing a Struggling Marriage.
- Building Love Maps: These are not as cheesy as they sound—Love mapping is basically getting to know your partner all over again, and hopefully on a deeper level. It involves asking questions like, “How do you feel?” “What do you like?” “What does your day look like?” and so on. This helps you learn to relate to your spouse better and improve your ability to see where they are coming from.
- Express Fondness and Admiration: Express appreciation and admiration of your partner. Get into the habit of complimenting your partner and acknowledging the efforts they make in the relationship. It is important that even when you are married, to never stop dating your partner.
- Turn Towards One Another: In conversations it is really important to respect your spouse even when the topic may seem tedious or redundant. You can emotionally turn towards your partner for asking for their opinion and perspective on issues. You can also physically turn towards your partner when engaging in conversations to promote better communication.
- Accept Influence: There is no better way to show your partner that you hear and respect their opinion than putting their words into action. When your spouse gives you suggestions, or ideas, let those influence your decisions and behavior. When one partner ‘wins’ the couple often loses, but if you are open to accepting the influence of your partner, both partners are more likely to benefit long-term.
- Solve the Solvable Problems: There is a theory by John Gottman that 69% of conflicts in relationships are not solvable, but perpetual. This means that the conflict is caused by common themes or opposing values between partners. Take the perspective that you are simply not going to win them all and figure out ways to compromise.
- Mange Conflict and Overcome Gridlock: Piggybacking on to solving solvable problems, it is important to learn to manage conflicts and accept that they may not be solved. That is okay. It is important to be able to get passed that feeling of “stuck” or “gridlocked.”
- Creating Shared Meaning: This can be done by sharing stories, history, and experiences with your partner. In addition, this can be done by working through difficult challenges with your partner.