Predicting Divorce with 94% Accuracy

By Caralee Frederic, LCSW | Certified Gottman Therapist | Couples Workshop Presenter

“The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse”

The Gottman Institute’s Family Research Laboratory, aka the “Love Lab,” completed six studies of couples that began with a hypothesis about factors leading to divorce. Based on these factors, founder Dr. John Gottman predicted who would divorce, then followed the couples for a pre-determined length of time. At the conclusion of the studies, he had predicted with 93.6% accuracy which couples would divorce.

What are the negative behavior patterns that can predict divorce? Dr. Gottman calls these patterns “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.” They are:

  1. Criticism: stating one’s complaints as a defect in one’s partner’s personality, such as giving the partner negative trait attributions. Example: “You always talk about yourself. You are so selfish.”
  2. Contempt: statements that come from a relative position of superiority. Contempt is the greatest predict of divorce and must be eliminated. Example: “You’re an idiot.”
  3. Defensiveness: self-protection in the form of righteous indignation or innocent victim-hood. Defensiveness wards off a perceived attack. Example: “It’s not my fault that we’re always late; it’s your fault.”
  4. Stonewalling: emotional withdrawal from interaction. Example: the listener does not give the speaker the usual nonverbal signals that the listener is “tracking” the speaker.
More important than Dr. Gottman’s ability to predict divorce, is the importance of understanding why certain actions increase divorce risk. The Gottman Institute’s very high prediction rate sheds light on how best to intervene.
Was this Blog helpful? If so, I highly recommend my couples weekend workshop: The Art and Science of Love, created by the Gottman Institute. Information and exercises are presented in an organized, cohesive manner. It’s a wonderful investment in your love life, and will truly strengthen your relationship!