I last shared Dr. Gottman’s six predictors of marital success and happiness. Here now are his top warning signs of coming marital strife:
1. Harsh Start of Arguments
The partner who starts the argument is aggressive or hostile, is insulting, attacks his partner’s character, uses sarcasm, shows contempt or disgust—all of which lead to escalation or withdrawal.
Attacking character or traits, instead of addressing the problem specifically.
Disgust, disrespect, condescension, sarcasm, eye-rolling.
Trying to prove I’m not the problem—you’re the problem; justifying your behavior.
Gottman uses this term to describe the dramatic physiological changes (adrenaline pumping, increases in heart rate, blood pressure, respiration) that precede stonewalling by a partner. Flooding and stonewalling start to occur later in marriage, after years of Harsh Starts, Criticism, Contempt, and Defensiveness.
Withdrawing, silence, no eye contact, no response, blank facial expression, leaving, being physically or emotionally unreachable. Stonewalling’s immediate cause is Flooding. Stonewalling appears to be an attempt to reduce Flooding’s heavy bodily stress. For prehistoric, hunter-gatherer reasons, Gottman speculates, men are more susceptible to Flooding than women, so men are much more likely to Stonewall. And, as women are 80% more likely to bring up sticky marital issues than men, an important implication of this finding is that women, particularly, need to avoid Harsh Starts in order not to set up the dynamics that lead to Flooding and Stonewalling.
7. Failed Repair Attempts
These are situations where attempts by one partner to repair damage and keep negativity from escalating out of control are ignored or otherwise meet with failure. Partner B doesn’t respond positively to Partner A’s attempts at apology, humor, or any other means of easing tensions.
Gottman finds that these seven factors both individually and cumulatively predict divorce. The pattern tends to begin with Harsh Starts, and this sets off a cascade of responses that leads over time to the various other Divorce Predictors.
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