If you’ve recently had some challenges in your marriage, you may find yourself asking, “Where is this relationship headed?” Divorce can be a scary word for couples, and it may be nerve-racking to be unsure if you’re on that track.
There are four commonalities among relationships to be predictors of divorce also know as the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse. If a combination of these horsemen is present continuously in your marriage, you may be headed to separation or divorce. But be encouraged: If you both want to stay married, there are antidotes to each horseman. Here’s what to look for:
Criticism occurs when you or your partner attacks the other’s character, beliefs, personality, appearance, or actions. Criticism uses absolute or superlative statements, which is different from voicing how you feel or what you think.
What criticism sounds like:
“You always look so sloppy and frumpy. I bet you don’t even have a plan for today. Are you really this lazy?”
Contempt is a more severe escalation of criticism. If you and your partner are communicating with contempt, it may come from a place where you feel superior over your partner and you speak or act in a condescending way to them. Contempt shows up in various communication behaviours, such as:
- disrespectful language
What contempt sounds like:
I really hate people like you. It’s a wonder you’ve survived this long, probably thanks to me. I’m sick and tired of you always acting this way! You aren’t good for anything!
Contempt is the No. 1 predictor of divorce within the first 6 years of marriage. Harbouring contempt is a predictor of an illness and poor well-being. If contempt takes root long term, it may damage the relationship and you or your partner’s self-esteem.
Defensiveness occurs when you or your partner denies responsibility when communicating to or about the other. This communication pattern often pops up if you feel attacked or criticized by your partner.
Gaslighting, which includes denial, manipulation, or misdirection, is a defense mechanism when someone doesn’t have or use sound communication skills.
What defensiveness sounds like:
Partner: “Honey, did you fold the laundry like I asked?”
Defensive response: “You know I had a long day at work, and you have to nag me about the laundry? It’s actually your fault it didn’t get done because I don’t think it was my turn!”
Defensiveness involves shifting blame, and it’s easy to get caught up in this, especially if you’re feeling bombarded.
Stonewalling is the last horseman, and this occurs when one partner disengages from the conversation. If you or your partner are stonewalling, it may look like:
- pretending to be busy
- lack of eye contact
- no communication
- engaging in other activities not related to the conversation
Stonewalling can sometimes signal the dissolution of a relationship because one partner becomes so shut down that they can’t come to any agreement, make repair attempts or communicate effectively. This level of disconnection may mean that one partner isn’t willing or able to keep putting in the effort required to maintain the relationship.
None of the horsemen are predictors of divorce on their own. Some are bound to pop in from time to time. But if you find that you and your partner have any combination of all four as a fixture in your relationship, it may be time to seek help. Whether you both want to stay married or go your separate ways, living with any of the four running around untamed can be taxing and contribute to a toxic relationship. You deserve wholeness and healing. The following may be antidotes to each:
- gentle startup (criticism)
- taking responsibility (defensiveness)
- cultivating appreciation (contempt)
- physiological self-soothing (stonewalling)