The first warning sign is harsh start-up. When couples argue, the first few minutes of the conversation often determine if it goes well or poorly. In most cases, about 96 percent of the time, if one partner brings an issue to the other partner in a harsh manner, it will escalate into an argument and the discussion will fail. Once an argument is escalated, it is very difficult to work through the conflict with understanding and a sense of cooperation.
The second sign is the presence of a combination of factors that result in greater misunderstanding, rather than resolution. Dr. John Gottman, founder of the Gottman method, calls these the "Four Horseman of the Apocalypse." This term is used to describe behaviors that are exhibited during conflict between couples.
These four behaviors are grouped together because they often occur simultaneously by one or both partners. It can be difficult for either partner to be objective because their emotions and reactions get escalated and overwhelming.
The third warning sign is flooding. This happens when emotions are so intense that neither partner can easily gain perspective or deescalate the argument. Flooding often reflects other types of physiological distress. Sometimes it occurs because of the hurts and damage caused by the argument itself. Other times, the current situation may remind either partner of past negative experiences, either with their partner or with another person in their past. Typically, when having a reaction characterized by flooding, people's heart rates go up and they're operating in fight, flight or freeze mode.
The fourth warning sign is failed repair attempts. When attempts to repair and improve the relationship have failed, a sense of hopelessness and futility can set in. Research indicates that if the elements of arguing described as the "Four Horseman" are prevalent, then the marriage is 82% likely to be on the verge of divorce. Combined with a history of failed repair attempts, the chance that the relationship will end rises to more than 90%. Learning how to make up and repair hurts in a relationship is critical.
The fifth sign of pending divorce is bad memories. Deeply entrenched couples often have a negative view of their marriage or spouse, and rewrite the past. If you find it difficult to recall your early days fondly, and you and your spouse have rewritten your marital history, chances are the marriage has tipped into what Dr. Gottman calls "negative sentiment override." This occurs when one or both people in the marriage perceive the relationship as more problematic than good. The patterns described above have resulted in either partner assuming that the other has bad intentions and is unable to recall what is positive anymore.
If these patterns and behaviors are familiar to you, it can be painful and feel hopeless that things could get better. However, just like there is research that has helps us identify and understand the difficult and negative patterns that some couples develop, there is also research that helps us understand how these patterns can be named and healed. Couples therapists at NCCT are trained to help you understand these patterns and find ways to develop new patterns that promote shared understanding and healing.