Life

The four red flags that will spell trouble in any relationship

Posted by
Kayleigh Dray
Published
Retrato pareja homosexual de mujeres felices

A divorce expert has revealed the four red flags that all couples should watch out for.

When we were growing up, many of us learned about love from the sugar-coated world of Disney. But, as it turns out, nailing that happy-ever-after ending is a lot harder than Cinderella made it seem.

Real relationships take a lot more work than a magical meet-cue and true love’s kiss – and, with even ‘perfect’ celeb couples like Miley Cyrus and Liam Hemsworth filing for divorce, many people on Twitter have been left wondering whether anyone can make monogamy work.

“Miley Cyrus and Liam Hemsworth split?” wrote one fan. “I’ve decided not to believe in love whatsoever.”

“I can’t believe Miley Cyrus and Liam Hemsworth have split and I don’t want to believe it,” lamented another.

And still one more asked: “If Miley and Liam can’t make it work, can anyone?”

The answer is, of course, that yes they can. However John Gottman, a professor of psychology who specialises in martial stability, has revealed that it’s very easy to predict which relationships don’t have what it takes to go the distance.

In fact, he is able to predict with 93.6 accuracy whether a couple is going to divorce or not.

Miley Cyrus and Liam Hemsworth on the red carpet at the 2019 Met Gala
Miley Cyrus and Liam Hemsworth announce separation: “They still remain dedicated parents to all of their animals they share while lovingly taking this time apart,” a representative for Cyrus explained.

No, this has nothing to do with guesswork; as Gottman explains in his book The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, he has followed couples across decades in many psychological studies to see what kinds of behaviours predict whether they will stay together, or split.

Among the factors he identified, four have stood out, time and time again – so much so that Gottman has dubbed them the “four horseman of the apocalypse”.

So, without any further ado, here are the four red flags to watch out for in a relationship.

1. Criticism

Criticism is an attack on your partner’s core personality
Criticism is an attack on your partner’s core personality

Everyone complains; it’s a natural part of our day-to-day life. And complaining about someone is, of course, absolutely fine; it would take a very strong person to resist commenting on the fact that their partner is “always late”.

However criticism is very different; it’s corrosive, and it’s an attack on your partner’s core personality. For example: “You’re late because you don’t care about me.”

It specifically frames the complaints in the context of a defect in your partner, strikes at their heart, and signals the end of your relationship is set to come sooner rather than later.

2. Contempt

Contempt is poisonous to a relationship
Contempt is poisonous to a relationship

Gottman explains that ‘contempt’ can take the form of “name-calling, eye-rolling, sneering, mockery, and hostile humour.”

He adds: “In whatever form, contempt – the worst of the four horsemen – is poisonous to a relationship because it conveys disgust.

“It’s virtually impossible to resolve a problem when your partner is getting the message that you’re disgusted with him or her.”

You may also like

Miley Cyrus is teaching us all a valuable lesson of owning who you are

3.    Defensiveness

Defensiveness escalates conflict rather than helps to solve it
Defensiveness escalates conflict rather than helps to solve it

When we become defensive, we fail to recognise our own faults, instead making excuses to explain away our actions.

In doing so, we often find that we are pushing the blame onto other people – and, in failing to take responsibility for our behaviour, we damage our relationship.

“You’re saying, in effect, the problem isn’t me, it’s you, Gottman writes in The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work.

“Defensiveness escalates conflict rather than helps to solve it, and it involves rejecting any responsibility for problems, and thereby putting all the responsibility on your partner.”

4. Stonewalling

Stonewalling can be extremely harmful to a relationship
Stonewalling can be extremely harmful to a relationship

Stonewalling essentially means withdrawing from a conversation, even if physically present.

There are no nods of encouragement to their partner as they speak, no attempt to empathise, and no effort to respond or connect; it is a metaphorical raising of the drawbridge, cutting off all communication.

While this may feel like the only response to a worsening situation – particularly from someone who is anxious, frustrated, or upset – it can be extremely harmful to a relationship, as it prevents conflict from getting resolved.

You may also like

“Not marrying my partner kept us together:” Goldie Hawn on the secret to lasting love

Gottman explains that marriages are successful only when couples are “emotionally intelligent” enough to accept one another as they truly are.

However, if you do spot any of the four horseman popping up in your relationship, he suggests that you search for their healthier counterparts.

For example, engage in “physiological self-soothing” (taking calming breaths and mindfully relaxing) when you find an argument to be too intense, rather than stonewalling.

And, instead of phrasing complaints as criticism of your partner, raise complaints about the situation or the behaviour instead.

He also encourages couples to stop using the word “you” in arguments, and choosing instead to use the word “I” – and to work on their marriage each and every single day, rather than just when it is in trouble.

“Reunite at the end of the day and talk about how it went,” he says. This will help to bleed off stress from the day, and stop it from negatively affecting your relationship.”

Hmm. That’s definitely given us food for thought…

Want insider tips on happiness, health, relaxation and more? Sign up for the Stylist Loves Wellbeing email

This article was originally published in September 2016.

Images: Rex Features/Getty

Topics

Share this article

Author

Kayleigh Dray

Kayleigh Dray is editor of Stylist.co.uk, where she chases after rogue apostrophes and specialises in films, comic books, feminism and television. On a weekend, you can usually find her drinking copious amounts of tea and playing boardgames with her friends. 

Recommended by Kayleigh Dray

Life

The common trait all happy couples share

Is this the secret to love?

Posted by
Sejal Kapadia Pocha
Published
People

Anna Faris on knowing when to call time on an unhappy relationship

“Don’t be afraid to seek your independence”

Posted by
Kayleigh Dray
Published
Life

How your relationship with your dad affects your love life

Psychologists reveal all (and what they have to say may surprise you)

Posted by
Kayleigh Dray
Published
People

Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi’s secret to long-term love is impossibly simple

As Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi celebrate their 10th anniversary, we examine why their marriage was built to last.

Posted by
Kayleigh Dray
Published
Life

The important love lessons we can learn from LGBT relationships

People who identify as gay or lesbian report higher relationship quality overall than people who identify as straight – but why?

Posted by
Emily Reynolds
Published