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This topic is adapted from the PursueGOD Couples YouTube channel and from The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work by John Gottman.

John Gottman is a renowned relationship expert and author who has spent years researching what makes marriages healthy and signs that they may be doomed to failure. Gottman says he can predict if a couple will divorce with 91% accuracy. That may not seem like a statistic to take pride in, he has figured out the problems that lead to divorce and wants to help couples fight against them.

Based on his research, Gottman has identified what he calls the “Four Horsemen,” the lethal reactions couples have to one another that spell doom.

Sign #1: Criticism

Criticism goes deeper than just a complaint. A complaint is about a specific behavior that is annoying or troubling. But criticism speaks more to the character and personality of the person. When couples start criticizing each other, trouble begins brewing. Criticism creates distrust between couples and leads to feeling less love for one another.

[Related: Don’t Let Bad Communication Derail Your Marriage]

Sign #2: Contempt

Contempt speaks to feelings of superiority and disrespect for the other. More than just being critical, it’s about one spouse feeling like they are a better, smarter, and a more reasonable person than the other. Often, contempt presents itself in sarcasm and passive aggressive actions that leave the other feeling unsafe and unsure.

Sign #3: Defensiveness

When one spouse is defensive, they’re essentially saying, “It’s your fault I did what I did, not mine.” There is no taking responsibility or owning up to mistakes. It’s all about projecting and deflecting onto the other spouse. Defensiveness makes it almost impossible to ever resolve conflict in a healthy way if one spouse can’t see the part they play in the problem. The other spouse is left feeling that they are always the one to blame.

Sign #4: Stonewalling

Stonewalling is another name for shutting down and refusing to talk. This is a lethal response to healthy conflict resolution where one spouse refuses to engage in the conversation. This response says, “I don’t care enough about you or the marriage to give energy toward trying to fix it.” This kind of attitude will never yield good results because marriage is about give and take and a willingness to fight for the relationship to succeed.

[Related: Why Do So Many Marriages End in Divorce?]

Evaluate your own marriage and see if any of these signs exist in your relationship. If they do, recognize that they can bring destruction to your marriage. Seek counsel, work through the issues, and protect your marriage from divorce.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Watch the video together or invite someone to summarize the topic.
  2. What is your initial reaction to this video? Do you disagree with any of it? What jumped out at you?
  3. Are you surprised that divorce can be so easy to predict? Explain.
  4. Think about divorced people in your life, what led to the demise of their marriages? Do any of the signs listed here ring a bell?
  5. Are any of the four signs are present in your marriage? What led to this being the case? Explain.
  6. How do you typically feel when people are critical of you? How about when people put you down or make you feel inferior? Does this feel even worse if it’s coming from your spouse? Explain.
  7. Why is defensiveness so destructive for healthy communication? What is a better way to respond?
  8. How can you safeguard your marriage from stonewalling?
  9. Read Ephesians 4:31-32. What does this passage tell us to rid from our lives? What should we do instead? How can making these adjustments help your marriage?
  10. Write a personal action step based on this conversation.

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