No one gets into a marriage with the plan of getting divorced. For most, divorce is a last-resort option after attempts at improving the relationship have failed. Luckily for you, with the right information and support, you can easily avoid it. How? For starters, be willing to invest in your relationship, be mindful of these four things, and actively practice the antidotes.

The following are what couples researcher John Gottman calls “The Four Horseman of the Apocalypse” because they signal the death toll of relationships. But the good news is that each one comes with an antidote so that your marriage can be a success.

1. Criticism

Cutting criticism from your relationship doesn’t mean that you can’t bring things up. It’s actually really good to address issues (rather than passively aggressively letting them fester inside). The problem arises in HOW you do it. When you criticize, you’re making the issue about your partner (i.e. “You’re a slob”) instead of the problem at hand (“It really stresses me out to have dirty clothes all over the bedroom floor”).

Antidote: State your issue neutrally and ask for what you need. It’s not actually about your partner’s behavior. It’s how you perceive their actions. Perhaps you’re angry because your partner comes home after work and turns on the TV while you are cooking dinner and trying to manage the kids. Instead of criticizing (“You are so selfish”), identify what is bothering you and ask for something different (“I’m feeling really overwhelmed trying to cook while the kids are running around. Can you turn off the TV and help me with the kids?”)

2. Defensiveness

We are generally unreceptive to criticism. And this is where defensiveness comes in. We feel attacked or insecure and we defend ourselves. The problem with defensiveness is that when walls go up, connection impossible. And, at the end of the day, we’re really trying to connect. If you’re tired of having a partner that feels like a roommate, it’s time to kick defensiveness to the curb.

Antidote: Take responsibility. We don’t usually like to admit that we were wrong or made a mistake. But, unfortunately that comes with the territory. I have yet to meet a perfect person. So I encourage you to own your part instead of engaging in a counter-attack (“If you had done what I asked, we wouldn’t be running late!), claiming innocence (“I didn’t know that this needed to be mailed today”), playing the victim (“It wasn’t my fault. Things are crazy at work right now.”), or being righteously indignant (“I can’t do everything! You need to take care of things too!”). Owning your piece of the puzzle will make this relationship a much smoother ride.

3. Contempt

Contempt is taking criticism to a new level. And it is also the strongest predictor of divorce. Contempt is when you call your partner names, speak down to your partner, roll your eyes at them, and hurl insults their way. Nothing makes you feel less loved, supported, and valued by your partner than them treating you with contempt.

Antidote: Show your partner fondness and admiration. Tell your partner what you love and value about them. And when you get mad about something, remind yourself why you love this person and all of the wonderful qualities they have and things that they do. In a strong relationship, the good things outweigh the bad. And there are always good things (you just have to notice them!)

4. Stonewalling

There is nothing more upsetting than a loved one who withdraws from you. When we stonewall our partner, we tune them out and shut down. Usually it’s because we’re overwhelmed and physiologically flooded. Stonewalling is an attempt to calm down. Unfortunately it causes a big disconnect in the relationship.

Antidote: Let your partner know that you need to take a moment to calm down and give a time when you can resume this conversation. You want them to know that they are important to you. But you also need to give yourself space to calm your racing pulse. Take deep breaths, clear your mind, and come back when you are feeling more grounded.

Most divorces could be avoided with the right information, skills, and support. Sign up for my newsletter below if you want tips on divorce-proofing your marriage!

Marriage Counseling