A few months ago I wrote a post reviewing John Gottman’s Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and how MLCers meet those marital warning signs. Today I am going to expand a bit. I’ve just started reading one of Gottman’s later books, The Science of Trust and within the first few pages it gave a lists for the 9 predictors of divorce. As I was reading the 9 predictors, I was thinking of the things we can do as Standers to respond rather than react to those predictors coming from our spouse—so they are not becoming predictors within both partners. Below I have excerpted Gottman’s list with a few of his descriptions. I have also included his endnote citations when they were part of what I’m excerpting—though, of course, the numbering will not match his.

I will then review a few of these in greater detail in order to discuss what Stander’s can do to counteract these negatives. My point in the previous article was that MLCers show these signs, that’s just part of the nature of MLC and though you don’t have to like it, you need to accept it. Some of you may even recognize your own negative behavior patterns; it’s not too late to change these now.

The following is excerpted from The Science of Trust by John Gottman.

The Nine Predictors of Divorce or Continued Couple Misery[1]

  1. More negativity than positivity. The ratio of positive to negative affect during conflict relationships is 5:1; in couples headed for divorce, it is 0.8:1 or less. …the relationship has to be much more positive than negative, even when the couple is disagreeing.[2]
  2. Escalation of negative affect: the “four horsemen of the apocalypse.” …These are the pattern of escalation of negativity. …couples who escalated conflict divorced an average of about 5.6 years after their wedding.[3]
  3. Turning away.
  4. Turning against: Irritability, emotional disengagement, and withdrawal. …some couples didn’t escalate conflict. They just had little positivity at all during conflict. …These couples divorced an average of 16.2 years after their wedding.
  5. Failure of repair attempts. …our goal is to help people process their inevitable fights and moments of miscommunication or hurt feelings, and to enable them to repair the relationship.
  6. Negative sentimental override.[4] …in negative sentiment override…a message was sent in a neutral or even positive way, but the partner sees it as negative. …In positive sentiment override, even messages an outsider would see as negative are not interpreted as particularly negative by the partner, or at least they are not taken personally.
  7. Maintaining vigilance and physiological arousal. …we think that after many experiences of diffuse physiological arousal, people develop a state we call “flooding.” …the experience that leads people to want to flee, aggress or become defensive.
  8. Chronic diffuse physiological arousal. …It can also create increased defensiveness and what we call the “summarizing yourself syndrome,” which is repeating one’s own position in the hope that one’s partner will suddenly “get it” and become loving again.
  9. The failure of men to accept influence from their women.

-End Excerpt-

Escalation of negative affect: the “four horsemen of the apocalypse.”
Since most MLC marriages have lasted longer than 5.6 years—by several years—this pattern of escalation is unlikely to have been an issue in your pre-MLC relationship.

Turning away.
MLCers are less likely to attempt to connect with you emotionally, the exception is Clinging Boomerangs. This is a tightrope challenge because it is important—especially in the beginning of the MLC—to use these opportunities to Pave the Way by rebuilding reassurance and your emotional and spiritual connection—while also detaching. At the same time, you may be inviting cake-eating. This is one of those unfortunate side-affects that you don’t want to encourage, but you do need to accept more in the beginning, but decrease such enabling as your MLCer progresses. Later in the crisis, you may need to balance your interactions by being less receptive to their bids for emotional connection. But keep in mind Gottman’s data regarding the ratio of negative to positive interactions and do not turn away at every attempt, reduce without removing.

Turning against: Irritability, emotional disengagement, and withdrawal.
Since these couples divorced an average of 16.2 years after they married each other, this predictor may be relevant to your relationship; some MLC marriages go well beyond these years, but MLCers on the younger end of the range are often close to this mark.

Look at your reactive and responsive patterns throughout your marriage. Your spouse may be displaying these now and may have displayed these in the past, but you can only change yourself, focus on what you can change or prevent yourself from doing now that there is an escalation of negativity. Turning against is about reacting to bids for emotional connection with irritability or even attacks rather than empathy, excitement, interest and support.

I’m guilty, are you? One of my patterns was to come home from work and go into my office for more work—my writing and writing-school work. Sweetheart would ask where I was or what I was doing. Then he’d ask again about 5 minutes later. I don’t know whether I sounded irritated or not, but I was doing the same thing as I had been when he asked a few minutes before—so why was he asking again? I even had the eye roll that John Gottman found is a large negative indicator—I don’t know if I literally rolled them or thought about it. I did not recognize Sweetheart’s obvious bid for an emotional connection. How might you have turned against or even away? Did your spouse feel afraid to be emotionally vulnerable with you because you might attack them, make fun of them or respond with irritability? This MLC is your wake-up call—it was mine.

Tomorrow’s post will continue this discussion.


[1] Gottman, John M. PhD. The Science of Trust. . New York: W.W, Norton & Company, 2011, pp. 15-21.

[2] Gottman, J.M. (1993). The roles of conflict engagement, escalation or avoidance in marital interaction: A longitudinal view of five types of couples. Journal of Consulting & Clinical Psychology, 61(1), 6-15. Gottman, J.M. (1993). A theory of marital dissolution and stability. Journal of Family Psychology, 7(1), 57-75.

[3] Gottman, J.M., & Levenson, R.W. (1999). What predicts change in marital interaction over time? A study of alternative models. Family Process, 38(2), 143-158. Gottman, J.M., & Levenson, R.W. (2000). The timing of divorce: Predicting when a couple will divorce over a fourteen-year period. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 62, 737-745.

[4] Weiss, R.L. (1980). Strategic behavioral relationship therapy: Toward a model for assessment and intervention. In J.P. Vincent (Ed.), Advances in family intervention, assessment and theory Vol. 1 (pp. 229-271). Greenwich, CT: JAI Press.

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