Divorce Predictors… What You Can Do About It

Marriage is an institution that is supposed to last a lifetime, but sadly, not all marriages do. Divorce can be a painful and traumatic experience, affecting not just the couple but more so, the children as also the families.

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Various psychologists in the sphere of relationships have tried to explore certain factors that are harmful and destructive to relationships. Research has shown certain kinds of negative destructive communication styles, which contribute to the end of a relationship. As per internationally renowned relationship expert and best-selling author, John Gottman, there are four main counterproductive behaviours which corrode the love which is at the core of an intimate relationship and predict relationship failure. These are: (I) Contempt; (II) Criticism; (III) Defensiveness; and (IV) Stonewalling.

Let’s explore each of these as also the kind of intervention needed:

The First Predictor Of Divorce – CONTEMPT: Characterized by negative feelings towards your partner, such as disgust, disrespect and mockery, (eye-rolling, sarcasm, name-calling), Contempt is the most dangerous of all because it signals a lack of respect for each other. At a minimum, it is cruel or mean, and at worst, it becomes emotional abuse. The biggest indicator of divorce, Contempt is also responsible for causing health issues, including a compromised immune system, in the partner who is its recipient.

Coping With Contempt:

– Be aware of your thoughts, feelings and behaviours and understand what it is that you are really upset about. Target that rather than using passive-aggressive ways to tell your partner how you feel.

– Speak respectfully even when angry. You can try to use “I feel” statements instead of “You are” statements, and avoid attacking or belittling your partner.

– Let go of any unhelpful stories (of righteous indignation or innocent victimization)

– Practise holding your partner in warm regard, even when feeling distant or during a fight.

– Appreciate your partner on their achievements or efforts.

The Second Predictor Of Divorce – CRITICISM: This involves attacking your partner’s character or putting down their personality, instead of addressing specific behaviours. Criticizing often leads to defensiveness, as the partner may feel attacked and become defensive, in response. Of course, this doesn’t mean you can’t freely express to your partner if their behaviour upsets you. It’s HOW you express yourself that matters. Under the difference between Criticism v/s Complaints. While a complaint addresses a specific action or non-action, a complaint targets the behaviour you want to change.

Coping With Criticism: You need to focus on the behaviour that you want to address and avoid attacking your partner’s character. Express what you notice, Share your feelings about that and then state your need. Use a gentle startup instead of criticism. For eg., instead of saying, “You’re so lazy,” you could say, “I feel frustrated when you don’t help with the housework.”

The Third Predictor Of Divorce – DEFENSIVENESS: This is a reaction to perceived criticism. It occurs when one partner feels attacked and responds with defensiveness, rather than listening to their partner’s concerns. Making excuses, cross-complaining and “yes-butting” are all forms of defensive behaviour. When feeling under attack, it’s understandable for people to get defensive. That’s why it’s such a difficult habit to break however, defensiveness rarely works because it’s really another form of blaming. Defensiveness can lead to a cycle of negative communication, as both partners become defensive and may feel unheard.

Coping With Defensiveness: It’s important to take responsibility for your actions and avoid blaming your partner. Try to listen actively to your partner’s concerns, rather than becoming defensive. Validate what your partner is saying – let them know what makes sense to you and what doesn’t.

The Fourth Predictor Of Divorce Is STONEWALLING: This occurs when one partner withdraws from the conversation and refuses to engage with their partner. Stonewalling can be a coping mechanism for dealing with conflict, but it can be destructive to a relationship. Common responses include stony silence, monosyllabic answers or changing the subject. There is a reluctance to express directly what you are thinking or feeling. While some people use stonewalling to calm themselves or the situation down, it seldom works because your partner is likely to assume you don’t care enough about the problem to talk about it and finds it very upsetting to be ignored.

Coping with Stonewalling: You need to learn to calm yourself down actively and then to re-engage in the conversation. Take some time out. Tell your partner you need a break from the conflict discussion. You can disengage from the conversation saying, “Let’s leave this for another time, when we’re calmer.” Assure your partner that you will return to the conversation when you’re both ready. During your time out, do something soothing or calming, such as listening to music or reading a magazine. Sometimes engaging in some form of meditation or deep breathing can also help.

In conclusion, the Four Predictors of Divorce – Contempt, Criticism, Defensiveness and Stonewalling – can be destructive to a relationship. However, by recognizing these behaviours and coping with them, couples can strengthen their relationships. With these coping strategies, couples can build a strong and lasting relationship. If need be, do reach out to a professional to help you navigate and deal with your relationship problems.


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