April 1, 2023

By Ellen Coughlan For Mailonline


A relationship expert has revealed the four tell-tale signs that a couple is heading for divorce – and says they are ‘more common than you think’. 
Clinical psychologist Dr Kathy Nickerson, from Orange County, California, explained there are four key behaviours that indicate a split might be on the horizon: criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling. 
Dr Nickerson, who draws on the work of psychologist and renowned marriage researcher Dr John Gottman, said while some of these behaviours might seem innocuous at first, they can lead to irreversible damage. 
‘Did you know that there are four behaviours, that if you do them in your relationship, they predict breakup or divorce at the rate of over 90 per cent?,’ she asked. ‘It’s true.
‘The research done to find these four behaviours was done by Dr John Gottman of the Gottman Institute at the Seattle Love Lab.
‘Gottman found that if some or all of these behaviours were present with enough frequency, the connection and friendship at the heart of a marriage would die.
‘And once that happens, it’s hard for couples to turn the relationship around or stay in the relationship.’
A relationship expert has warned of the tell-tale signs that indicate a couple is heading for divorce – and says ‘they’re more common than you think’. Stock image
She said: ‘Criticism occurs when you make harsh judgments about your partner’s thoughts, feelings, character, appearance, and behaviour.
‘An example of criticism is: “Oh, so you’re just going to sit on the couch today again, huh? You are such a lazy person, you never do anything to help, you’re such a blob”.’
She explained criticism damages the relationship because it conveys judgement and lack of acceptance.
She warned: ‘If you do not feel accepted and liked by your partner, you will not feel comfortable sharing with them and your emotional connection will deteriorate rapidly.’
The second is contempt which she says is ‘poison to a relationship.’
‘We act with contempt when we convey, through our words or facial expressions, that our partner is worthless, disgusting, or less than,’ she said.
Dr Kathy said you need to pay attention to your own behaviours and make changes, and ask your partner to make changes too.
She said: ‘I am a big fan of asking for what you want in a relationship, it’s so much faster and more efficient than hinting or waiting for your partner to figure it out.’
Dr Kathy added: ‘It’s not enough to just tell your partner that you love them, how you treat them matters.
‘I don’t think it’s a sign of strength to say that you hurt each other and you’re both fine with it. Can a plant survive if you pour bleach on it every day?
‘Well, maybe it can, for a while… but why would you want to do something that you knew was harmful?’
‘An example of contempt is “I cannot believe I married such a disgusting person. You’ve really let yourself go. Looking at you repulses me.”‘
She explained Gottman found that contempt is the number one predictor of divorce within the first six years of a marriage.
She said: ‘It is hard to like or feel safe with someone who constantly tells you how flawed and damaged you are.’
The next one is ‘stonewalling’ – when you shut down and withdraw from a conversation when your partner is speaking.
This could go as far as standing up and leaving the room just to get away from the partner when they speak.
She said: ‘Stonewalling is so deadly for a relationship because we need to feel that our partner listens to us and cares about our feelings.
‘If our partner just walks away from us, we do not feel heard, we do not feel understood, we do not feel validated and we start to feel very unloved and disconnected.’
The fourth and final behaviour is defensiveness.
Dr Kathy explained this is when someone jumps to defend themselves in a conversation with their partner instead of taking responsibility.
She said: ‘If your partner is sharing why they are hurt by something you did and you quickly launch into every explanation for why it couldn’t be done, odds are you are being defensive.’
She warned defensiveness is problematic for a relationship because both partners need to feel like they can influence the other to feel ‘safe’.
She says not being able to do so can result in feelings of powerlessness and less connection to your partner.
It’s not too late to come back from it – but you have to know what to do about it, and it isn’t always easy. 
‘Start with being more positive, kinder, more helpful, and more complimentary to your partner,’ she said.
‘Try to generate some goodwill and then add some fun into the mix – watch a new program together, play a game, go for a walk.
‘The combination of positivity and fun is very healing for a relationship.’
She added: ‘There is no perfect person, there is no perfect relationship or marriage.
‘Your relationship can be as happy and healthy as you want it to be… if you pay attention, listen, validate feelings, and act with compassion and care.’
Here, Dr Kathy reveals how to tackle each of the four major issues. 
Published by Associated Newspapers Ltd
Part of the Daily Mail, The Mail on Sunday & Metro Media Group


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