Archive for February, 2015

A Gottman View of Marriage and Divorce: Some Core Aspects

When couples come in for mediation, one of our first comments is that they will need to learn how to communicate with each other in the process. The response is almost universal, “If we could communicate better, we wouldn’t be here!”

It would be wonderful if that were true. Sadly communication is not the key. It is only a process in which information is exchanged.

This is a place where therapists can really help a couple move through this difficult process. For example in collaborative work there are two mental health coaches that assist in the process of keeping the couple focused and resourceful as well as limiting negative communication – building the grounds for their new relationship.

While the explanations are as varied as there are couples, the research of Drs. John and Julie Gottman illustrate the core reasons people divorce. From over 40 years of observation they note four key facts that can spell the end of any relationship. John refers to these as the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse. They are criticism, defensiveness, stonewalling and contempt.

We are not going to go into depth on these when you can read about them more fully on the Gottman’s own site. But what we find interesting is that in their years of research, and the subsequent follow-up, John and Julie noted that all these traits exist in all relationships. No one is perfect.

What are key, as noted by the Gottmans, is a positive frame of mind and how attempts to repair a situation are given and received.

In marriage it takes about five positive comments or acts of kindness to overcome one negative. In the Gottman’s studies, couples in distress had a ratio that was more like .8 to1 positive to negative. So the level of mental and emotional attention expressed as kindness and gestures of acceptance and consideration needs to be 5xs more than any negative.

This positive sentiment allows for couples to heal their rifts. It creates an emotional place within the relationship where a repair attempt can be made and accepted. When there is a positive balance in the relationship even awkward attempts at reconciling after an argument will most likely be accepted. They would be seen as genuine in light of the positive attitude in the relationship.

In divorce, respectful communication is important. But for a marriage to succeed, positive consideration at a ratio of at least 5 to 1 positive to negative coupled with consistent and honest attempts at repair when something goes wrong are two of the keys.


By: Armand & Robbin D’Alo