Arguing is a normal part of any relationship. In fact, married couples who claim not to argue are either lying to themselves or not participating fully in the marriage. If you have a marriage without disagreement, you have two partners who are not fully vested in the marriage.
Just because arguing is a normal part of marriage does not mean that negative interactions should outweigh positive ones. Too much arguing might be a sign of troubled waters. Dr. John Gottman, a psychology professor, was able to identify four hallmarks of divorce among married couples. He named those identifying factors, “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.”
If you feel that you and your spouse argue far too much, you might want to see if you can identify the four identifying factors for divorce below. Identifying the signs of a potential breakdown in your marriage may help you save it from disaster.
The Four Hallmarks
Criticism can often be unhealthy for any relationship. That is not to say that all criticism is bad. For instance, constructive criticism can have a positive impact. However, if you use criticism as a means to destroy your partner’s character, it could have a devastating effect.
You can certainly point out if your partner behaves in a certain way that has an impact on your feelings, finances, or other issues related to your marriage. Of course, there is a right way and a wrong way to point out those behaviors.
If your partner is late coming home from work, for example, and hasn’t called you like you have asked many times before, express your concerns properly.
Constructive Criticism: “I’m glad your home and safe, but I was very concerned. It makes me worry more when you do not call me to tell me that you will be late coming home.”
With the statement above, you have clearly expressed your feelings and how your spouse’s behavior made you feel. That is a constructive form of criticism.
Negative Criticism: “You are the most selfish, inconsiderate person I know! I hate that you never stop to think about how your behavior impacts me when you don’t call to tell me you’re going to be late!”
As you can see, the negative criticism statement above can create both harm and hurt. Although you are getting your point across, you are doing so in a way that is not often received well. If you find that you or your partner criticize each other using the negative criticism example far too often, then you are likely looking at one of the four hallmarks of divorce.
Gottman considers contempt to be the kiss of death for married couples. If you feel contempt toward your spouse, it is indicative that your marriage is in serious trouble. When feelings of contempt or disgust arise, it can overshadow anything positive, such as the potential for feelings of love.
Contempt is often expressed by way of cynicism, mocking, ridiculing, and belittling the other person. If you notice these behaviors in your marriage, you need to take a step back and think about where these feelings are coming from. For instance, contempt may arise if your spouse loses his or her job. You may feel angry and disgusted at the situation.
If your thoughts and feelings cannot come from a place of understanding toward one another, it is a sign of degeneration in the relationship. In fact, contempt might be one of the more serious of all the four hallmarks of divorce.
If you receive criticism and contempt from your spouse, it may cause you to feel defensive. Defensiveness is a common human reaction. It is easier to defend actions than it is to take responsibility for them. Unfortunately, when you become too defensive, the problem between you and your spouse only intensifies.
Also, when you become defensive, you put your guard up. When you put your guard up, you are creating a wall that can create further divisiveness between you and your spouse. Rather than providing room for you and your spouse with connectedness that solves issues, defensiveness creates further distance.
Stonewalling is the fourth and final sign when it comes to the four hallmarks of divorce. It happens when you or your partner withdraw from the relationship. One sign of stonewalling is pulling out your phone, walking away, or simply ignoring your partner when an argument arises. Stonewalling shows that you no longer care enough about the relationship to participate.
It is understandable that you would want to avoid an argument. Fighting with your spouse is not fun. However, arguments are a normal part of any relationship, and the tension and discomfort is only temporary. If you work together to process your feelings and understand one another, the feeling of tension and discomfort eventually passes.
Your Marriage is Not Doomed
Just because your marriage is showing one or even all of the four hallmarks of divorce does not mean it is time to throw in the towel. In fact, it is completely normal for couples to display the four behaviors listed above every now and then. If it happens all the time, you have a much larger issue on your hands.
Most importantly, if you recognize that these behaviors exist in your relationship, that is good! That means that you care enough to take notice of your behaviors and how they are affecting your marriage. Recognition and acceptance of your behaviors is the first step toward healing and recovery.
One way to reverse the effects of these behaviors is to replace them with a healthier, more understanding approach. Rather than offering negative criticism, stick to positive criticism. Rather than getting defensive, offer understanding to your spouse. Instead of showing contempt, offer honesty about your feelings, but do so in a calm, neutral manner. Finally, instead of ignoring the problem, face it head on and work your way through it.
If you find that you are having trouble working through your issues, speak to a qualified therapist. Therapy has helped many couples overcome the four hallmarks of divorce, and it can do the same for you.
Monica Ramunda is a solution-focused therapist with an office located in Louisville, Colorado for in-office visits. With a Master’s Degree in Counseling Psychology and more than 16 years experience in therapy and counseling, Monica works as both a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) and Registered Play Therapist (RPT) with adults and children respectively. Much of Monica’s success is based on her eclectic orientation and drawing on a wide range of different approaches and techniques all while remaining strongly grounded in the principles of Cognitive Behavioral Techniques (CBT).