Dr. John Gottman’s Prescription for A Successful Relationship
by Annette Conway, Psy.D. 2011based on Gottman, John. 1994. Why Marriages Succeed or Fail
Behaviors that predict the ultimate success or failure of a relationship with uncanny accuracy have been identified by Dr. John Gottman’s work on couples. He studied more than 2,000 married couples over two decades. In his series of ingenious studies, Dr. Gottman discovered patterns in how partners communicate with each other, and demonstrated that he could predict with 94% accuracy within the first three minutes of a couple’s conversation whether the relationship would survive over the long-haul. He based his predictions on four potentially destructive communication styles and behaviors.
These behaviors Gottman calls “The Four Horsemen of the Marital Apocalypse”:
Attacking your partner’s personality or character, usually with the intent of making someone right and someone wrong:“Generalizations: “you always… “, “you never…”, “why are you so..”
Attacking your partner’s sense of self with the intention to insult or psychologically abuse him/her:
– Insult and name-calling: “wimp, fat, stupid, ugly, slob, lazy…”
– Hostile humor, sarcasm or mockery
– Body language & tone of voice: sneering, rolling your eyes, curling your upper lip
Seeing self as the victim, warding off a perceived attack:
– Making excuses (e.g. external circumstances beyond your control forced you to act in a certain way) “It’s not my fault…” “I didn’t…”
– Disagreeing and then cross-complaining “That’s not true, you’re the one who…”, “I did this because you did that…”
– Yes-butting: start off agreeing but end up disagreeing.
– Repeating yourself without paying attention to what the other person is saying.
– Whining “It’s not fair”
Withdrawing from the relationship as a way to avoid conflict. Partners may think they are trying to be “neutral” but stonewalling conveys disapproval, icy distance, separation, disconnection, and/or smugness:
– Stony silence
– Monosyllabic mutterings
– Changing the subject
– Removing yourself physically
– Silent treatment
Dr.John Gottman demonstrated links between certain types of positive interchange, such as respectful actions, encouragement, and light-hearted banter during disagreements, and the long-term success of a relationship.