Words by Jadie Troy-Pryde
Relationships are hard work, and that’s a given. As much as we’d like them to play out like a rom-com, the cold hard truth is that when you’re in a long-term relationship the nice bits are punctuated with arguments about your OH’s overbearing mum, and sprinkled with squabbles about who left an empty milk carton in the fridge again.
But when does mindless bickering about groceries turn into something more serious? Every couple will experience challenges, but according to an expert in marital stability there are four huge indicators that a relationship is not going to work.
Professor of psychology, John Gottman, has revealed the big signs that you may be in trouble with your OH, and with an impressive 93.6% accuracy record when it comes to predicting which couples will divorce, we’re going to go out on a limb and say he knows what he’s talking about.
Gottman has been studying couples and relationships for decades to decipher which behaviours are relationship red flags. He explains in his book, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, that there are four stand-out signs (which he terrifyingly names the ‘four horsemen of the apocalypse‘) that determine whether or not a couple will split – and here they are.
While it’s normal to want to voice a complaint, criticism is a signal that your relationship is doomed to fail, according to Gottman. He uses the following example:
‘A complaint is: “I was scared when you were running late and didn’t call me. I thought we had agreed that we would do that for each other.”
‘A criticism is: “You never think about how your behaviour is affecting other people. I don’t believe you are that forgetful, you’re just selfish! You never think of others! You never think of me.”
‘To critique or voice a complaint is about specific issues, whereas a criticism is an attack. It is an attack on your partner at the core. In effect, you are dismantling his or her whole being when you criticise.’
Once we start using excuses to explain our actions, we are refusing to take responsibility for our behaviour which can be damaging in a relationship.
‘You’re saying, in effect, the problem isn’t me, it’s you,’ Gottman advises. ‘Defensiveness escalates conflict rather than helps to solve it, and it involves rejecting any responsibility for problems, and thereby putting all the responsibility on your partner.’
Gottman names this as the most poisonous behaviour in a relationship, as it gives your partner the impression that you’re disgusted with them. It covers everything from ‘name-calling, eye-rolling, sneering, mockery, and hostile humour,’ and is the worst of the four horsemen.
‘In whatever form, contempt – the worst of the four horsemen – is poisonous to a relationship because it conveys disgust,’ Gottman explains.
‘It’s virtually impossible to resolve a problem when your partner is getting the message that you’re disgusted with him or her.’
Successfully communicating has well and truly ended at this point. This is when you or your partner have resorted to a complete emotional shutdown. Stonewalling is a cut off, to the point where there is no effort to respond verbally, or even physically, when the other person is talking.
But while blanking might feel like the only way to deal with a situation to avoid an argument, it also stops the conflict or underlying issue from being resolved.
Gottman states that marriages only work when couples are ’emotionally intelligent’ enough to fully accept each other’s flaws.