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Brighter Outlook

By West Briton  |  Posted: March 20, 2014

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EVERY week we see brave souls tying the knot and entering a blissful state of marital union.

Well, that's the hope anyway. The reality is more unsettling. In fact, more than half of first marriages fail and 60 per cent of second marriages don't last. It's scary stuff, but is there anything we can do about making our relationships work?

One interesting area of research comes from the Seattle psychologist Dr John Gottman. Gottman, who has been called "the guru of marriage", found ways of measuring couples' behaviour that enabled him to predict with around 90 per cent accuracy whether they would divorce or not.

He identified four patterns of communicating that were the kiss of death for marital harmony.

1. Criticism: This is where couples criticise the other person and not the specific thing they've done that's bothersome. So, rather than saying: "I'm angry you haven't taken out the bins," it'll be: "I'm angry you haven't taken out the bins; you're so useless"

2. Contempt: This factor was in fact the most powerful predictor of divorce. It's a step up from criticism in that a disrespectful insult is lobbed straight at the other person. "You're so pathetic. You can't do anything right".

3. Defensiveness: Denying responsibilities, making excuses or going on the counterattack are all forms of defensiveness.

4. Stonewalling: More often than not, this is a man thing. Stonewalling is a steadfast refusal to respond, even during times of criticism.

These Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, as Gottman calls them, are guaranteed ways to racket up the negativity and tension in a relationship. Gottman found that couples who had the ability to repair the damage could survive, but when they didn't, it generally spelt doom for the relationship.

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