Forget about infidelity, nagging and incompatible goals. Those may just be symptoms of deeper marital issues.
According to research by The Gottman Institute, these four things can predict (with a whopping 94% accuracy) that a couple is headed for divorce. The Institute’s founder labeled them the “Four Horsemen” after the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse in the Bible.
Stonewalling can be either offensive or defensive. One spouse may cut off communications and refuse to speak whenever they’re upset to punish their spouse or coerce them into apologizing (or begging for forgiveness) for some perceived wrong.
Meanwhile, another spouse may suddenly shut down in the face of hostility or criticism from their spouse and stop responding because they no longer know how. Either way, stonewalling ends all communication — and any hope that the underlying issues can be worked out.
When defensiveness turns vocal, it really is a subtle form of aggression. One spouse may make a complaint or offer criticism, and the other responds by “flipping the script” and blaming their behavior on the spouse who spoke up.
For example, one spouse complains that the other is always leaving them to go out with their friends and the other responds, “I wouldn’t leave you here if you weren’t a nag and rude to my friends.” That makes the entire conversation pointless. Everybody ends up focused on the problems, not possible solutions.
When spouses stonewall, there’s very little being said. On the opposite end of the spectrum, you may have constant, negative communication in the form of unnecessary criticism.
Constructive criticism can be a healthy part of a marital relationship, but a spouse that’s offering their unsolicited, damaging takes on everything the other spouse does may be verbally and emotionally abusive. They may also be broadcasting the fact that they feel nothing but contempt for the other party.
This may be last on the list, but it’s the number one predictor of divorce. Contempt isn’t the same as hatred (although they’re commonly mingled). Instead, it’s a pervasive sense that the other party is generally worthless or somehow deserving of the scorn that gets heaped upon them.
When respect gets lost between couples and one (or both) treats the other with contempt, the marriage is effectively dead. If this all sounds familiar, maybe it’s time to do a little more research into divorce.