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The 4 Predictors Of Divorce | Orlando Couples Therapist Shares Insights

couples-therapyDr. John Gottman, a well-known family and marriage researcher, has developed an understanding of the functions and dysfunctions of married couples over the last 40 years. Having worked with over 3,000 couples, he has gained insight into the marriage relationship, including the factors that have the ability to predict couples’ divorces with incredible accuracy (up to 91%). According to Gottman, there are four main predictors of divorce in marriage, which he has named the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. 

The 4 Predictors of Divorce


Calling out your partner’s shortcomings may feel good in the short-term, but it isn’t beneficial within the conflict at hand or in your relationship at large. Criticism is the classic complaint begun with “You” and followed by identifying something in your partner that you’re frustrated with. Try reflecting on what you want to say and changing it into the “I” statement that truly reflects what you’re feeling towards your partner. This is a healthy and non-hurtful way to communicate your feelings, improving your relationship while also building a more effective strategy for managing conflicts.

“You are so disgusting!” becomes “I would really like for you to clean up after yourself when you make a mess.”

“You never do anything nice for me!” becomes “I would really appreciate being shown the value you see in me and our relationship more often.”

These “I” statements are less likely to escalate the conflict and foster animosity like the “You” criticisms are. Be mindful and cultivate compassion in your relationship.


Often, in response to criticism, individuals become defensive; they make themselves out to be the innocent party and put the blame on others. Although it seems less threatening to simply protect yourself from the accusations you’re facing, creating and maintaining the habit of defensiveness will deteriorate your ability to communicate with your partner. Instead, attempt to understand why your partner is frustrated and take responsibility for your shortcomings. Though all aspects of the conflict might not under your control, accept those parts that are and acknowledging what you could do better.

For example, if your partner says, “Why didn’t you get the dishes done like you promised you would last night?”

You could be defensive and say, “I’ve been really busy lately, and you were home all morning. Why couldn’t you have done it?”

Or, you could take responsibility, “I know it must be frustrating for you when I don’t do what I say I will, and we both have a lot on our plates. I just forgot with everything I had to do this morning, but I’ll go do them now.”

Holding yourself accountable and admitting to your partner when you’ve made a mistake will stop harmful habits from beginning, allowing you and your partner to keep positive, healthy communication a consistent part of your relationship.



Identified by Dr. Gottman as the largest predictor of divorce, contempt in a relationship is a sign of serious problems. Fueled by disgust and a history of negative interactions, contempt often comes across as mean, cruel, or hostile. Making fun of your partner, using sarcasm maliciously, or calling your partner names are all ways in which contempt can be expressed in a relationship. This kind of disregard for your partner’s feelings breaks down all aspects of your relationship – emotional, mental, and physical.

In a contemptuous relationship, an individual’s response to his or her partner leaving their dirty laundry on the bedroom floor might sound like, “You’re such a slob! Why can’t you ever pick up after yourself? Are you a child? I didn’t realize I married a child.”

Though contempt is a serious issue in a relationship, Dr. Gottman has identified “building a culture of fondness and admiration” as the antidote.



Once a couple gets to the point of experiencing contempt, the individuals within the couple will often shut down. You are so overwhelmed by the conditions of your relationship that you find a way to be too busy to interact much with your partner, brushing them off, and evading them. Though it may be the easiest way to cope, stonewalling makes it very difficult to work on your relationship.

Instead of giving the silent treatment or refusing to confront your partner once the relationship becomes too hard to deal with, take yourself out of the difficult situation in order for you and your partner to have time to process and calm down before trying to interact with one another. Furthermore, instead of using your time off from your partner to fume and reflect on all the negatives of the situation, use the time to soothe yourself by going for a walk, listening to some music, or reading a book so that you’re able to return to your partner calm and able to communicate effectively.

These four issues feed into one another, leading the way to what Dr. Gottman calls “Horseman Hell.” When one partner is critical, the other will tend to get defensive. This reaction becomes habit and fosters contempt in the relationship; partners then stonewall to protect themselves from having to deal with hurtful encounters.

Many couples learn about the Four Horsemen and think that these issues seem obvious. They are, but the application of that knowledge to avoid using them as shortcuts or just out of habit in your relationship is difficult. By becoming aware of these issues in your marriage and making an effort to change them, you can protect the strength of your relationship. Counselors trained in the Gottman method are especially qualified to work with couples in these areas.

At GroundWork Counseling in Orlando, our couples therapist has received level 1 Gottman training, and helps couples rebuild and strengthen their relationship through evidenced based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Gottman method therapy.


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