Psychologist John Gottman describes the following indicators of divorce as the “four horsemen”: excessive criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling. In his defense, he did title his book The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. When one researches marital stability, it only makes sense to become an expert in anything that poses a threat to the institution. Gottman claims he has the ability to predict divorce with over 90% accuracy. Before we discuss seeking therapy for divorce, not to mention adjusting to life after divorce, let’s have a closer look at those ominously nicknamed predictors.
The “Four Horsemen”
Gottman focused his research on micro-expressions, which are tiny, fleeting expressions and forms of body language that signal specific emotions. Certainly, this man of science did not intend to invoke the Biblical apocalypse when describing the sort of behavior he felt to be surefire signs of divorce. Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt and examine the four signs more closely:
- Criticism: We can assume Gottman is not referring to constructive criticism. Not only is he referring to excessive criticism but he especially points to such criticism in the absence of frequent, offsetting positive statements.
- Contempt and lack of respect: Ok, that’s technically two but we’ll defer to the marital expert on this one. Gottman argues that this is the single best predictor of divorce and can be seen even early on in a relationship. One might wonder how these two didn’t show up sooner or, better yet, how the couple made it to marriage in the first place.
- Defensiveness: This is one trait that indicates the more classic marital sticking point that is communication, or lack thereof. Successful marital communication requires that both parties be willing and able to acknowledge their respective roles and contributions. Defensiveness involves deflection, most likely of blame. Individual arguments go unresolved, then ‘snowball’.
- Stonewalling: This is merely the logical conclusion of the sort of decline in communication started by defensiveness. Once a partner sees fit to avoid interaction and discussion all together, arguments go unresolved and the situation becomes a powder keg.
As we were quick to mention, Gottman’s book does go on to include volumes of well-researched pointers for rescuing a marriage from his menacing equine quartet. That is where we will part ways with the man. Instead, let’s assume the signs are clear. Divorce is imminent. What can be done?
Therapy for Divorce
Therapists spend entire careers untangling the thoughts and emotions of individuals. When those individuals choose to intertwine those thoughts and emotions with another via marriage, only to end up breaking the whole enterprise back in two, a whole other therapy becomes necessary: divorce therapy. A very specific list of emotions tend to be on the table during these sessions:
The first and last are perhaps the most telling of what plagues those facing divorce. After all, fear, anxiety and depression can strike anyone. Guilt indicates that another party is involved and that there has been an action for which to be guilty of. Grief, as it always does, hits the hardest. It is the feeling of loss, loss of another person. Normally, the term is associated with death and while one’s partner may not be dead, the magnitude of the loss felt in a divorce may feel just as great.
Divorce therapy may not be able to save a marriage but it can, at the very least, reign in the maelstrom of emotion and focus the couple on the number one topics, such as living arrangements, financial obligations, and parenting responsibilities. Speaking of parenting, children of divorce tend to need professional intervention as early as possible. They will always be the third party, the victims. Family court holds the best interest of the children in the highest regard, as top priority. Thus, divorce lawyers and their clients are expected to as well.
Adjusting to Divorce
‘Divorce’ can be a scary word but ‘change’ might give it a run for its money. After all, divorce may be in the rearview mirror but the impending change is part of the road ahead, the great unknown. Imagine a couple married for the better part of 70 years. Do any memories of solitary life remain, even in the subconscious? Considering the person’s advanced age, change cannot be a welcome force. The routine, habit and schedule engrained after seven decades are not going to readily erode. Yet, this most certainly does not mean that anyone expects an elderly person to suffer quietly. An adjustment process is to be expected, no matter what the age.
Divorce therapy is all about putting things in perspective. From where you might be standing, years of marriage followed by its dissolution might seem like a bad dream. Dreams are welcome in therapy, especially the bad ones. Do not let those negative emotions derail you. There is always life to be lived. If you have trouble finding a therapist during your divorce, a divorce lawyer should be able to connect you with a colleague. Schedule a consultation and we’ll address your concerns.
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