You should, because such a man exists. Dr. John Gottman, a name as well-known in my circles as Freud, based his predictions on scientific observation of the interactions between couples in his Love Lab. He used video, heart rate monitors, measures of pulse amplitude, jitteriness and skin conductivity in his research--making it fully scientfic.
In 1994, he wrote an incredible book, Why Marriages Succeed or Fail. In it, he said, “A lasting marriage results from a couple’s ability to resolve the conflicts that are inevitable in any relationship.” He gives 6 signs of pending divorce/breakups, along with helpful quizes, to help shed light on the process of relationship deterioration.
As a marriage and family therapist, I often discuss these 6 signs in session. As a writer, these signs should be present in your manuscripts for breakups to be realistic--because our fiction should be based in reality!
Sign #1: A "Harsh" Startup
This might sound obvious, but research shows that if your discussion begins with a harsh startup, it will inevitably end on a negative note, even if there are a lot of attempts to “make nice” in between. 96 percent of the time you can predict the outcome of a conversation based on the first three minutes of the fifteen-minute interaction.
Sign #2: The Four Horsemen
We are all going to have complaints about our partners. That's life. But there is a world of difference between a complaint and a criticism. For example, “I’m really angry that you didn’t take out the garbage last night” is a complaint which focuses on a specific behavior. On the flip side, "You are so forgetful! You never take out the garbage when it's your turn!" is a criticism. Criticism throws in blame, accusation, and general character/personality assassination.
Criticism is present to some degree in all relationships, but just because it rears its head doesn't mean the relationship is headed for a breakup. When the criticism becomes pervasive, though, it does signal the arrival or worse horsemen.
Showing contempt to your partner is the worse of all the horsemen. Contempt is attacking your partner’s sense of self with the intention to insult, demean, or psychologically abuse him or her. This can be in the form of "sarcasm, cynicism, name-calling, eye-rolling, sneering, mockery, and hostile humor" (Gottman et all, 29). Contempt conveys disgust, and it's impossible to resolve a problem when your partner is getting the message that you are disgusted with him/her.
Criticisms can lead to long-standing negative thoughts about your partner. When the differences aren't resolved, then complaints turn into global criticisms, which produce more disgusted thoughts and feelings until finally a person is fed up. The result is a decay of admiration and positive feelings for the partner.
When one person is contemptuous, it stands to reason that the other will likely be defensive. This is a normal reaction to contempt, but it's not helpful in the least. "Defensiveness is really a way of blaming
your partner. You're saying, in effect, the problem isn't me, it's you" (Gottman et al, 31). The problem will never resolve with defensiveness, and conflict escalates further because communication is obstructed. A person who is defensive will usually play the martyr, constantly seeing themselves as the victim by denying responsibility, making excuses, "yes-butting," cross-complaining, etc.
This is when a person withdraws from the relationship as a way to avoid conflict. The withdrawer may think they are being neautral, but stonewalling conveys disapproval, disconnection, separation, and icy distance. In fact, it can even come across as smug. The "I'm-better-than-you-because-I'm-walking-away" action.
It's an absolute communication shutdown, precipitated by a length of time when the first 4 horsemen are incredibly active. "It takes time for the negativity created by the first three horsemen to become overwhelming enough that stonewalling becomes an understandable out" (Gottman et al, 34). FYI, men do this more than women.
Join me here next week when I cover the next two signs that predict breakups.
Q4U: Any of you have your characters start off their arguments harshly? Do you have your arguments end well when they do?
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