The swift change in cultural attitude and socio-economic status of men and women during the last 70 years, has dramatically transformed the way people view commitment and marriage as an institution.
Divorce has become a heavily discussed topic now more than ever, presenting many layers of complexity not only to the regular person but also to marriage experts, psychologists, and social scientists, studying the effects of toxic behavior on married couples. Nonetheless, a simple two-word answer to explain the alarming rate of divorces nowadays would be toxic behavioral models, driven by the large shift in the belief systems of people, searching for happiness individually rather than together as part of a couple.
In the past, marriage has been perceived as a necessity and shared responsibility, instead of a precursor to achieving romantic happiness, and deep intimacy with the soul mate of your dreams. Creating a secure home environment, staying loyal to your spouse, and doing everything that it takes to make marriage work were some of the fundamental values that people used to share before the psychological revolution in the 60s. Divorce used to be a very remote concept to couples of the past, inflicting very intense feelings of shame and disappointment in people, rather than the strength of character and independence it epitomizes today in our modern society.
The psychological revolution that was witnessed in the last five decades brought a fresh new focus on individuality and their personal growth journey, away from the marital tag and long-term relationships. That, in itself, completely re-defined the concept of shared happiness in a married couple, carrying a whole different meaning today compared to the past.
Nowadays, people view marriage more as a necessity that will satisfy their emotional needs and make them feel less lonely in the years to come. Unfortunately, leaning the expectations of marriage mainly on emotions can seriously blur the lines when it comes to choosing a sound partner, or one who is capable of understanding their commitment and responsibility in a lifetime relationship.
In the age of individualism, many young couples step into the union with false expectations and hopes that reflect only their personal needs and dreams. The lack of pre-marital ethics that used to lay the foundation of good communication and compromise is now a major reason for the huge percentage of marriages that end in divorce. This could also explain the big change in attitude and behavior that cause separation and alienation between partners in the modern day.
So, if you are still under the impression that the reason behind today’s high divorce rates is bad luck, you are wrong!
John Gottmann is a famous marital psychologist who studies the correlation between different behaviors and divorces over the course of 16 years. He claims that only within 15 minutes of talking with a married couple he can tell whether their partnership will end in a split. According to the renowned scientist, there are four main types of behavioral models called “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse”, which are indicative of the poor outcome of marriages in young couples.
These so-called apocalyptic behaviors are well-known in psychology and they are used widely by marriage experts to identify destructive patterns, which need to be addressed early in the relationship before the irreversible damage has been done.
In case you recognize some of these models in your marriage, don’t lose hope! Realization is actually beneficial since it helps couples to find the problem and start the healing process right away, rather than continue living in the vicious circle of dissatisfaction, hopelessness, and fruitless guilt-tripping.
Feelings of contempt towards the significant other can be recognized as a mixture of anger and disdain. This type of behavior can have different levels of expression and strength in the daily lives of people, but it always shows the inability of one or both partners to see their other half as equal. An example of such behavior can be any domestic argument, which escalates into big disagreements and feelings of contempt towards each other. Viewing your partner as less smart, incapable, and worse-off as a person can have a detrimental impact on your relationship, provided that this behavior is not resolved effectively earlier on.
How do two people end up resenting each other? Contempt oftentimes happens as a result of the continuous miscommunication between the two partners and their inability to relate to each other’s needs and emotions. Gottmann says that contempt behavior can be a major reason for divorce 7 or 14 years after the start of marriage. This is why it is so important for newlyweds to nurture good communication and maintain their healthy dynamics despite the disagreements and difficulties they go through as a couple.
Similar to contempt, criticism is also a type of disapproval of the other person due to the lack of understanding between the partners. This behavior can be expressed with good intent but it is often detrimental if it becomes chronic and leads to no real constructive changes in the relationship. People often criticize their partners as a reaction to repeated undesirable behavior in social situations, at home, or as a result of their attitude towards one another. Common examples are alcohol problems, poor hygiene, and recurring domestic disagreements that happen over long periods of time.
If criticism becomes consistent and it leads to feelings of guilt, shaming, and inferiority complex in one of the partners, then we can talk about emotional inequality, leading up to dissatisfaction, and potentially even divorce.
If you often get into a situation with your partner, in which one or the other plays the victim, it could be an indication of defensiveness behavior in the relationship. This model usually happens as a habitual reaction when one partner receives criticism or blame for something wrong they’ve done, and they can’t face the consequences of their actions.
Confrontation is not what most people like to get into with their spouse but there are some benefits from arguing occasionally if it helps couples to get to know each other and their emotional needs. Disputes can have a constructive effect in a marriage if they become resolved timely, before becoming a major conflict repeatedly over time. With that said, running away from confrontation and not communicating your true needs during an argument is an alarming behavior in couples, which can lead up to divorce between 3 to 5 years after getting married, says John Gottmann.
Defensiveness is a hard one to overcome if there is a clear misunderstanding between both sides and a tendency to fall victim to negative thinking. Oftentimes, two people in a couple take certain roles which they find hard to leave behind if they believe in becoming “defeated” or losing their grounds in the relationship. This is why it is so important to make room for open communication without any fear, secrets, or blaming.
Stonewalling behavior has only recently been identified by a famous psychologist as the fourth major cause of large disagreements and divorce nowadays. This is practically an expression of ignoring the problems when the argument is swelling up by resorting to escape mechanisms such as excessive mobile phone use, TV, or other distractions, taking away the focus from the present disagreement. Other common examples of stonewalling behavior can be drinking, smoking, and attentive escaping from communicating one’s personal needs and opinions. Similar to defensiveness, this behavior does not help partners to get to know each other, and share their concerns with the relationship or life in general.
To avoid growing the gap between two people, a couple must have excellent communication abilities at every stage in their relationship. The truth is that marriage is an ongoing alignment of two people who grow and develop together and individually over their entire lifetime. This is why spouses should proactively make an effort to listen to each other with patience and understanding.
Except for the four types of behavior that are known to cause alienation between the partners and divorce, there are many other reasons which motivate people to break the knot at some point in their relationship. These are referred to as “unreasonable behavior” and they can also be seen as a direct consequence of The Four Horseman of Apocalypse and poor communication between the partners. According to a recent survey of divorcees, the most common reasons to end a marriage are Constant Arguing, Cheating, Lack of Intimacy, Domestic/Verbal Abuse, and Irreconcilable Differences between two people. Other common factors reported in the survey are Drinking or Taking Drugs, Lack of Love, and Lack of Interest in one person investing in a relationship with equal weight. The last few reasons that divorcees state to have broken their marriages are Financial Problems, Lack of Common Interests, and Getting Married Far Too Early.
So, having read about so many different behavior models and factors that lead to divorce, you may notice a pattern of two people losing touch with each other when they miss communicating and showing compassion for one another continuously over time.
Research also shows that women are more susceptible to one of the four destructive behaviors but they are also more adaptable to gaining new skills which will help them tackle their marriage problems more effectively. Whether all of these trends and patterns reflect the reality of high divorce rates, it is difficult to make an outright conclusion! We know that every couple has a unique dynamic and disagreements, which are hard to fit into a template, created only by science and statistics.
With all this in mind, we can conclude that no matter the reason for disagreements in marriages, consistent communication and a proactive understanding of your partner’s needs is key to keeping your union alive. It’s also important to stay open, rather than proud and unrealistic about your expectations from your partner at any point in time.
If you have recognized any of these behavioral patterns in you or your partner, and you are afraid that they may be hurting your marriage, do not hesitate to get in touch with Next Level Love for consultation or advice!
The saying goes: “Successful marriage requires falling in love many times, always with the same person”.
If you want, however, to accomplish that kind of success in marriage, you need to be able to give and receive love at every step in the journey, regardless of the difficulties on the way.