Peter’s couple therapy blog

How Gottman predicts separation/divorce 6


“When a relationship gets subsumed in negativity, it’s not only the couple’s present and future life together that are put at risk. Their past is in danger, too. Couples who are deeply entrenched in a negative view of their spouse and their marriage often rewrite their past.

“Gottman says: “’When I ask them about their early courtship, their wedding, their first year together, I can predict their chances of divorce, even if I’m not privy to their current feelings.’

“Most couples enter marriage with high hopes and great expectations. In a happy marriage couples tend to look back on their early days fondly. Even if the wedding didn’t go off perfectly, they tend to remember the highlights rather than the low points.

“The same goes for each other. They remember how positive they felt early on, how excited they were when they met, and how much admiration they had for each other.

“When they talk about the tough times they’ve had, they glorify the struggles they’ve been through, drawing strength from the adversity they weathered together. But when a marriage is not going well, history gets rewritten — for the worse. Now she recalls that he was thirty minutes late getting to the ceremony. Or he focuses on all that time she spent talking to his best man at the rehearsal dinner — or ‘flirting’ with his friend, as it seems to him now. Another sad sign is when you find the past difficult to remember — it has become so unimportant or painful that you’ve let it fade away.

“When the four horsemen overrun a home, impairing the communication, the negativity mushrooms to such a degree that everything a spouse does — or ever did — is recast in a negative light.

“In a happy marriage, if the husband promises to pick up the wife’s dry cleaning but forgets, she is likely to think, ‘Oh well, he’s been under a lot of stress lately and needs more sleep.’ She considers his lapse to be fleeting and caused by a specific situation. In an unhappy marriage the same circumstance is likely to lead to a thought like ‘He’s just always so inconsiderate and selfish.’

“In a happy marriage a loving gesture, like a wife greeting her husband with a passionate kiss at the end of the workday, is seen as a sign that the spouse is loving and considerate. In an unhappy marriage the same action will lead the husband to think, ‘What does she want out of me?'”


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