John Gottman - one of the world experts on relationships, on how to predict a divorce:
Harsh startup - i.e. how discussions (especially emotion-laden topics) are started. Harsh startup are those conversation start-ups laden with criticism and sarcasm - which are forms of contempt.
Criticism – instead of a specific complaint (about a given action or situation): better to complain about the action as opposed to criticize the person for who the person is. Saying: “what’s wrong with you” is a great way to build your divorce.
Contempt: sarcasm and cynicism are examples of contempt and do wonders towards your divorce! It is even bad for your immune system! Contempt can be seen in things like rolling eyes, sneering, mockery and hostile humor. Contempt is the most poisonous to a relationship than anything else. Sometimes, contempt is offered in the guise of high “moral” standards. Contempt also affects the couple’s immune system. Belligerence is similar to contempt. Contempt is fueled by long-standing negative thoughts.
Defensiveness: explaining/defending oneself in light of attack actually does not have the desired effect, as it tends to have an underlying blaming counter-attack, such as in: “it’s not me, it is actually you”.
Withdrawing from the relationship as a way to avoid conflict. Partners may think they
are trying to be “neutral” but stonewalling conveys disapproval, icy distance, separation,
disconnection, and/or smugness:
- Stony silence [the "silent treatment" is a favorite among the ladies]
- Monosyllabic mutterings
- Changing the subject
- Removing yourself physically
- Silent Treatment
Flooding: people stonewall to protect against flooding response to harsh startups. Flooding is the defenseless, shell-shocked feeling after the barrage of criticisms, contempt or defensiveness. People in such states become hyper-vigilant that spouse is “just about to blow at me again”. This state of mind, only reflexive responses could be expected due to the physiological “fight-or-flight” state of the flooded partner. Only is the above factors are a routine occurrence is the marriage in dire straits. The occasionally flooding can be tolerated by a stable relationship.
Body language: physiological changes during flooding (i.e. endocrine, heart-rate) can predict divorce for two reasons: 1) distress when dealing with the other; 2) hard to have a productive problem-solving discussion when distressed.
Failed repair attempts: emotional repairs lower stress levels and conflict. But if the repair attempts not work to avoid the flooding stage of conflict, then the couple is likely going to have relational difficulties. Positive sentiment override predicts the success of repair attempts.
Bad memories: when past is re-written in a negative hue, divorce chances royally go up! i.e. Do you gain strength or negativity from the adversity that you weathered together. How people frame the situation could lead to further negativity or positivity or reasonability, etc…. When the couple has negatively re-written their relationship, they are at the end stage of their marriage. They could talk calmly (i.e. distantly!!!!) about their conflict. They may appear like they are doing relatively well. This calm is not to say that their conflicts were superficial, but that the couple has emotionally divorced! But such relationships could be salvaged too, i.e. not only by the communication (i.e. startups) and effective repairing, but also by increasing friendship -i.e. improving things too when the couple is not fighting.
- Learn to make specific complaints & requests (when X happened, I felt Y, I want Z)
- Conscious communication: Speaking the unarguable truth & listening generously
- Validate your partner (let your partner know what makes sense to you about what they
are saying; let them know you understand what they are feeling, see through their eyes)
- Shift to appreciation (10 times as much positive feeling & interaction as negative)
- Claim responsibility: “What can I learn from this?” & “What can I do about it?”
- Re-write your inner script (replace thoughts of righteous indignation or innocent
victimization with thoughts of appreciation, responsibility that are soothing & validating)
- Practice getting undefended (allowing your partner’s utterances to be what they really
are: just thoughts and puffs of air) and let go of the stories that you are making up