What Causes Divorce?

Divorce – Sad young couple holding billboard sign with break love heart, concept for divorce

by Wayne M Cagle, MEd, LPC-S
Lifeworks Counseling Center

Most couples I have worked with will describe various reasons for the instability of their relationships: lack of communication, inability to resolve conflict, intimacy and affairs, parenting, finances, to name a few. However, these are merely symptoms, not causes. Yes, they’re problems but they’re not why the relationship may be in jeopardy of ending.

Over 40 years of research by Dr. John Gottman identified six signs for potential divorce or breakup. Of those six signs, one is the main cause, especially in the first seven years of marriage. This sign is known as “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.”

Criticism: Criticism blames and attacks the character of a person. This usually is in the form of a “You” statement.

Defensiveness: Defensiveness is an attempt to ward off a perceived attack. It is usually in the form of righteous indignation or innocent victimhood.

Stonewalling: Stonewalling occurs when a person feels overwhelmed and is unable to respond. Often this happens when partners feel attacked or criticized.

Contempt: Contempt is the failure to honor and respect the person and is the greatest predictor of divorce. Some examples of displays of contempt usually come from a place of superiority and may include sarcasm, cynicism, name-calling, eye-rolling, sneering, mockery, and hostile humor.

Let’s consider the following:

A conversation starts with a criticism. What is the other person likely to do? Get defensive. If they get defensive, they stop listening. We’ve only mentioned two of the horsemen. Consider how these might shut down communication, conflict resolution and intimacy. Now, over time, one or both partners may get overwhelmed and shut down and shut out their partner. They may become physiologically aroused (flooded) and either explode or leave the room. Consider how this might thwart our ability to communicate, solve problems, or develop intimacy. If contempt is involved, it only furthers the problem.

The elimination of these four is key to moving forward in relationships. If you would like help, start the conversation. Live well. Let us help.

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