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Got Gottman?


My mom is a therapist who looks frequently for good authors/thinkers and she will mention them to me. She's a big fan of a guy named Gottman. He's into divorce prediction, and has done studies complete with electrodes and cameras and other means of recording the moods, conversation, and interaction of a couple.

Here's one of his indicators:

Wives who make sour facial expressions when their husbands talk are likely to be separated within four years.
Hubbies won't talk if what he says brings a grimace to his wife's face. Nor will he hang around her if she doesn't smile when he appears. She doesn't have to always smile, but friends get smiles when encountered. Children get smiles. If the man doesn't get a regular warm welcome, why be there? And so separation happens... never discount a smile. It's the easiest and often the most engaging thing we can give to someone.

Gottman has this notion of the "four horses of the apocalypse." These are the four predictors of relationship demise. Ready?

  • Withdrawal
  • Criticism
  • Contempt
  • Defensiveness
There's a cure for these. Don't withdraw - stay in the room and mentally engaged to work it out. Soften criticism. Be open to the soft criticisms of your spouse - really listen. Focus on what you admire about your partner, and not on what bugs you.

There's a good article here that gives a brief summary. Here's a snippet:

In a healthy relationship, Gottman says, "there must be a rich climate of nourishing emotions: teasing, laughter, validation, kindness and understanding." In stable marriages, the ratio of positive to negative interactions is five to one, Gottman finds. Couples who store healthy feelings, he adds, have enough invested to bail themselves out when they get into trouble.

When negativity gets on a roll, he says, contempt is "the single biggest predictor of divorce. It is sulfuric acid for love; it completely erodes it." Contempt often goes hand in hand with constant criticism, which one partner may use as a result of having endured it as a child.

We are creatures of habit. We often mimic what we've known. Even the most idyllic childhood can bring a few bad habits.

Relationships aren't for the faint of heart. The search for love is a risk, but it's worth it. And it's worth the work in keeping it once you find it.

ETC: Here's a good link to a review of one of Gottman's tapes.

Listening to Gottman we learn that both happy and unhappy couples argue, but unhappy couples are far more likely to engage in a wide range of destructive fighting techniques, including personal attack, dredging up the past, losing focus and name calling. Well-adjusted couples speak clearly and openly with each other and listen empathically; while distressed couples generally resort to what Gottman calls the "four horsemen of the apocalypse," ineffective behaviors which are highly predictive of divorce. The four predictors are criticism, defensiveness, withdrawal and contempt. Satisfied couples are friends and, therefore, employ more positive than negative exchanges. They also have better problem solving skills. Dissatisfied couples, on the other hand, are likely to engage in negatively escalating conflicts and become stuck in repetitively destructive patterns.

The term "four horsemen" is also used to describe a downward spiraling sequence with criticism more likely for women and withdrawal more likely for men. The male partner's ability to deal with conflict is a great predictor of the outcome of a marriage. Generally, men are less competent in relationship skills than women. The degree to which they are inadequate at handling conflict indicates the likelihood of deterioration within the relationship. Gottman observed that gender differences are most prominent in bad marriages, especially in situations where men refuse to be influenced by women. In stable marriages, wives soften their criticism and husbands accept influence from their spouses. Male withdrawal is not causal but is an epiphenomena of distressed marriages. The typical pattern is that the wife pursues and the husband withdraws; in an ailing marriage this pattern is most pronounced. Gottman questions John Gray's suppositions of great gender differences between men and women because he found only a few. He argues that women are more likely to criticize. Men are typically less effective when expressing themselves and therefore more likely to withdraw. Unfortunately, the withdrawal has a negative effect.

Yup. What he said.


by Brett Rogers, 7/24/2006 1:42:19 PM


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