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Four Signs Your Marriage is Doomed to Fail

The book of Revelation depicts in Chapter 6:1-8 a scroll in God’s right hand that is sealed with seven seals. Jesus opens the first four seals, which summons four horsemen. These four horsemen are meant to represent conquest, war, famine, and death, respectively. The esteemed psychologist and marriage researcher, Dr. John Gottman, has come up with his own version of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. His research has found that an unhappy marriage can increase your chances of becoming significantly ill by 35% and take four years off of your life. Given this research, it seems likely that working on your marriage everyday is just as effective as working out at a health club.

Although many couples are uncomfortable with anger and believe that their anger is the root of marital unhappiness, this is not necessarily the case. Conflict is not the problem, but how we handle the conflict is where the problems arise. Venting anger constructively can actually do wonders to clear the air and get a relationship back in balance. However, conflict does become a problem when it is characterized by the presence of Gottman’s version of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling.

  1. Criticism – Criticism involves abruptly attacking your partner’s personality or character, rather than focusing on the specific behavior that bothers you. It is healthy to air disagreements, but not to attack your spouse’s personality or character in the process. This is the difference between saying, “I’m upset that you didn’t take out the trash” and saying, “I can’t believe you didn’t take out the trash. You’re just so irresponsible.”
  2. Contempt – Contempt is one step up from criticism and involves tearing down or being insulting toward your partner. Contempt is an open sign of disrespect. Examples of contempt include: putting down your spouse, rolling your eyes or sneering, or tearing down the other person with so-called humor and sarcasm. Contempt and bitterness towards each other destroys the loving culture.
  3. Defensiveness – Adopting a defensive stance in the middle of conflict may be a natural response, but does not help the relationship. When a person is defensive, he or she often experiences a great deal of tension and has difficulty tuning into what is being said. Denying responsibility, making excuses, or meeting one complaint with another are examples of defensiveness. Both partners are usually guilty of defensiveness during arguments and this tends to be the the most prevelant and most harmful of all the Four Horsemen.
  4. Stonewalling – People who stonewall simply refuse to respond. Occasional stonewalling (or shutting down) can be healthy as a defense mechanism, but as a typical way of interacting, stonewalling during conflict can be destructive to the marriage. When you stonewall on a regular basis, you are pulling yourself out of the marriage, rather than working out your problems. Men tend to engage in stonewalling more often than women do.

All couples will engage in these types of behaviors at some point in their marriage, but when the four horsemen take permanent residence, the relationship has a high likelihood of failing. In fact, Gottman’s research reveals that the chronic presence of these four factors in a relationship can be used to predict, with over 80% accuracy, which particular couples will eventually divorce. When attempts to repair the damage done by these horsemen are met with repeated rejection by either spouse, Gottman says there is over a 90% chance the relationship will end in divorce.


Tagline: Michael Linn is a Licensed Professional Counselor in the state of Pennsylvania and a Nationally Certified Counselor. He is the owner of Resolute Counseling, located in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania.  He can be reached by calling 717-264-0450 or visiting www.resolutecounseling.com

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