Identifying divorce risk

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Research enabled Dr. John Gottman to determine whether a couple would stay married or not based on their communication habits.

By Nicole Melchi, M.Ed., MFT, LPCC-S Director of Family Programs, Kent Psychological Associates

We developed our couples therapy program around the research findings of therapist Dr. John Gottman. This research enabled him to determine whether a couple would stay married or not based on their communication habits. He named the four most likely to cause a union’s end The Four Horsemen. In our practice, we help couples identify these habits in their relationships and repair them.

Contempt: Ever notice yourself eye-rolling your spouse? That’s a red flag of contempt, and it’s the worst of the Horsemen. Contemptuous behaviors convey a “I am better than you, you are less than me” attitude, causing feelings of worthlessness. Research has shown that not only does this kill a relationship, it also impacts a person’s immune system.

Criticism: When you make negative complaints about your partner, he or she can feel rejected and hurt. Your spouse does something you interpret as “wrong” and you negatively label them instead of describing the behavior that is bothersome. Oftentimes people don’t even realize how critical they are being.

Stonewalling: This happens when one partner responds to the other by not responding. Stonewalling is often the result of feeling “flooded” or emotionally and physiologically overwhelmed. And this hinders a person’s executive functioning skills so they cannot process the right words to communicate and problem solve.

Defensiveness: For people who feel constantly criticized and unjustly attacked within a relationship, this response spurs them to fish for excuses and see themselves as an innocent victim. The antidote is to take responsibility for what you need to do to ward off what you see as an attack in a more positive way.

Kent Psychological Associates is located at 190 Currie Hall Parkway, in Kent. Call 330-673-5812 or visit for more information.