What if you could predict which newlywed couples will remain married and which ones will divorce four to six years later? And what if you were right 90% of the time. Well…this is what marital researcher, Dr. Gottman claims.

The work of John Gottman in the Love Lab at the University of Washington has informed the path to creating disaster or mastery in your relationship. Gottman calls this path of disaster, the road to ruin or the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse. Yes, this is a biblical reference! These involve four attitudes that predict divorce and emotional distance in relationships with about 94% accuracy, so pay attention!

If you want to be a master of relationships, not a disaster, avoid these four attitudes and behaviors.

  1. Criticism: In couple relationships, this is the first stage of growing part. It involves personal attacks of your partner’s character or personality. “You never…, he doesn’t…, she can’t…” These are not statements of concern, rather criticisms of the person’s being. To change disaster to mastery, express concerns, do not criticize your partner.
  2. Contempt: This is a personal attack of your partner’s sense of self. Contempt includes insults and psychological abuse. It is often seen in the rolling of the eyes and mockery. When contempt is present, relationships go downhill and push couples to grow apart. To change this disaster to mastery, lose all forms of contempt as it is based in pride. C.S. Lewis reminds us, “For pride is spiritual cancer: it eats up the very possibility of love, or contentment, or even common sense.”

And we know pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall (Proverbs 16:18). The antidote for pride is found in Colossians 3:8: “But now you must also rid yourselves of such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.” To avoid disaster, humble yourself. Contempt leads to the next attitude–defensiveness.

  1. Defensiveness: Because of criticism and contempt, couples play the victim and push off attack. They make excuses and point the finger at the other person. Defending yourself takes a great deal of energy and doesn’t lead to intimacy or being known by the other. To move from disaster to mastery, take responsibility. Confront issues and acknowledge your part in them. Be polite and appreciative in the process. Basically, approach problems with a positive attitude to solve them. Lose all defensiveness and be open to addressing relationship issues.
  2. Stonewalling: If you use criticism, feel contempt, and become defensive, this will end in the erection of an emotional stone wall and withdrawal. When this happens, couples realize they have grown apart and consider ending their relationship. They are distant and cold. They sit at dinner with no conversation, distracted by technology and possible thinking how much better their life could be with someone else. To move from disaster to mastery, take down the emotional wall and begin to emotionally connect with your partner. Turn towards your partner, not away. Be willing to work on the relationship.

What Gottman doesn’t address in his formula for mastery is the guidance we find in the Bible as to how to treat others. The Bible is consistent with what marital researchers know to be a master, not a disaster in relationships. Thus, as you deepen your knowledge and application of Scripture, your life changes in positive ways. It makes you less critical, replaces contempt with love, brings down the walls of defensiveness and stone and creates humility, not pride. When you change, so does your relationship. You bring a better you to work on the “we.”

If you recognize the path towards relationship disaster, please find a couples’ therapist as we know how to reverse negative patterns. There are ways to bring back intimacy if you are willing to get help and work on these attitudes. The first step is to recognize the road you have travelled that leads to disaster. Once you gain self-awareness, work on reversing this path.

Master or disaster of relationships?