Peter’s couple therapy blog

How Gottman predicts separation/divorce 7


“When a marriage gets to the point where the couple have rewritten their history, when their minds and bodies make it virtually impossible to communicate and repair their current problems, it is almost bound to fail. They find themselves constantly on red alert. Because they always expect to do combat, the marriage becomes a torment. The understandable result: They withdraw from the relationship.

“Some people leave a marriage literally, by divorcing. Others do so by leading parallel lives together. Whichever the route, there are four final stages that signal the death knell of a relationship.

1. You see your marital problems as severe.
2. Talking things over seems useless. You try to solve problems on your own.
3. You start leading parallel lives.
4. Loneliness sets in.

“When a couple gets to the last stage, one or both partners may have an affair. An affair is usually a symptom of a dying marriage, not the cause. The end of that marriage could have been predicted long before either spouse strayed. The warning signs were almost always there early on if they had known what to look for.

“You can see the seeds of trouble in the following:
1. What couples actually say to each other (the prevalence of harsh startup, the four horsemen, the unwillingness to accept influence).
2. The failure of their repair attempts.
3. Physiological reactions (flooding).
4. Pervasive negative thoughts about their marriage.

“Any of these signs suggests that emotional separation, and in most cases divorce, may only be a matter of time.


“As bleak as this sounds, far more marriages could be saved than currently are. Even a marriage that is about to hit bottom can be revived with the right kind of help. Sadly, most marriages at this stage get the wrong kind. Many therapists will deluge the couple with advice about negotiating their differences and improving their communication.

“Gottman was not able to crack the code to saving marriages until he started to analyse what went right in happy marriages.

“The key to reviving or divorce-proofing a relationship is not in how you handle disagreements but in how you are with each other when you’re not fighting. The foundation is to strengthen the friendship that is at the heart of any marriage.


1. Gottman says he can predict a couple’s future breakup (divorce) based on which of the following?
a. the presence of anger in the couple’s arguing
b. the couple’s acknowledgment that their marriage isn’t perfect
c. the way the couple argues
d. a, b, and c
e. a and b only
f. a and c only

“2. fill in the blank. In Gottman’s terms, when a discussion begins with criticism and/or sarcasm, it has begun with ________________________ .
a. a burst of contempt
b. a hostile setup
c. negative sentiment overdrive
d. a hostile startup
e. a harsh startup
f. a harsh setup

“3. Certain kinds of negativity, if allowed to run rampant, are so lethal to a relationship that Gottman calls them the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Which of the following ARE NOT of the Four Horsemen?
1. defensiveness
2. complaining
3. stonewalling
4. contempt
5. hostility
6. conflict

a. 2, 5, and 6
b. 2, 4, and 6
c. 4, 5, and 6
d. 2 and 5
e. 5 and 6
f. 4 and 5”


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