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4 Argument Tactics that Predict Divorce

How a couple communicates is one of the most important aspects of a marriage. Likewise, how a couple argues, or fights, can destroy a marriage, if negative patterns of arguing are continually used. Dr. John Gottman is a world renowned marriage and relationship researcher who says there are four negative patterns that are common when couples argue. Dr. Gottman even goes so far as to say that these four negative patterns are divorce predictors, and called them "the four horsemen of the apocalypse", meaning that they predict the "end of days" for a marriage. These four negative tactics are:

  1. Criticism. Criticism is essentially stating your complaint as an attack on the other person. Criticism though is far from helpful in an argument with your spouse. It fuels the fire and escalates the conflict. By criticizing your spouse in an argument, it essentially tells them "As far as I can tell, I'm close to perfect but you are defective".
  2. Contempt. Dr. Gottman calls contempt "sulfuric acid for love", and says that contempt is actually the best predictor of divorce. Why is contempt so damaging? Well, contempt is disrespectful, and portrays an air of superiority to your spouse. Interestingly enough, contempt has physical repercussions; it actually erodes the immune system. Dr. John Gottman says it's a predictor about how many infectious illnesses someone on the receiving end of contempt will have in the next 4 years.
  3. Defensiveness. Defensiveness is toxic in a relationship because it is essentially a means of not taking responsibility for a problem. Defensiveness really gets in the way of a couple's ability to solve a problem together, which is what you really should be trying to do in an argument or disagreement. Devising a solution to a problem that is acceptable for both spouses is really the ultimate goal of an argument; it should not be about winning, or shaming your spouse. Those tactics are just not productive!
  4. The Silent Treatment. People who use the silent treatment tactic are usually trying to not make things worse. Interestingly enough, there seems to be a gender correlation with the silent treatment. Dr. Gottman's study showed that 85% of spouses who used the silent treatment were men. However, just like with the other negative tactics, this one usually makes things worse, and escalates the argument, specifically if the person on the receiving end of the silent treatment is the wife. Women want to be heard, and if they are getting the silent treatment from their husband, often feel like their feelings are not being heard.

Dr. Gottman talks about these four negative patterns that predict divorce on the Anderson Cooper show, and it's very interesting to watch. If you are interested in seeing the video recap from the show, you can find them on Anderson Cooper's website.

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