Marriage is a commitment that involves dedicated work and effort to keeping the relationship alive and healthy. According to John Gottman, a well-known couples therapist who has spent years studying marriages, there are clear signs that marriages are beginning to fail and might be heading towards divorce. Being aware of these predictors helps partners to pick up the pieces and mend the relationship before it is too late.

Many couples take their relationships for granted, let things slide and before they know it they might be headed for a breakup.


Harsh Start-Up

The first sign that the relationship is on a downward spiral is the way a discussion is started in a relationship. When one partner begins discussing an issue in a negative, accusatory and criticizing tone it most often results in a failed discussion. Partners who start their discussion around sensitive issues in a positive, soft and kind way are more likely to have a positive outcome.

Four Horsemen of Apocalypse

This term, coined by Gottman, refers to four types of negative interactions that are severely damaging to a relationship. Criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling. When one partner attacks the character of the other partner instead of simply complaining about their behavior then the interaction becomes a criticism. Criticism can very often lead to contempt where sarcasm, name calling, mockery and hostile comments are used. Contempt is a dangerous thing as it communicates dislike and disgust with one’s partner – a frightening thing to feel in a relationship. Typically defensiveness will surface when these interactions are at play and this is a way of blaming your partner by implying or stating that “the problem isn’t with me it’s with you”. When issues remain unresolved, the relationship begins to deteriorate. Before long one partner will begin to shut the other one out – refusing to talk or hear anything more. This is known as stonewalling. While any of the three negative interactions can predict divorce, they are most often found together in an unhealthy marriage.


This is when one partner feels overwhelmed by the interaction leaving them feeling enraged and angry and needing to leave the argument. In most cases, the partner will disengage or begin to stonewall. When flooding occurs in a relationship it is often a sign that arguments are escalating too quickly and becoming overwhelming.

Body Language

Flooding often occurs in conjunction with some clear physiological changes such as increased heart rate and a surge of adrenaline, which makes it impossible for the person to maintain a rational discussion. Signs that flooding is occurring include foot tapping, eye rolling, clenching of fists, looking the other way, or shutting their eyes to their partner. These behaviors indicate that the discussion cannot be resolved at this time.

Failed Repair Attempts

A repair attempt is when one partner tries to avoid the discussion from becoming too negative by making a joke, smiling, or even apologizing. A simple gesture that can just ease the tension is a useful repair attempt, but when the couple is at a gridlock then the repair attempt will be unsuccessful and the argument will continue to escalate. Failed attempts are another clear sign that the relationship is in trouble.

Bad Memories

The last sign that a marriage is heading towards a divorce is when the couple is unable to recall their past together positively. In other words, the negativity has overridden their perceptions in such a way that they begin to perceive their entire relationship as negative.

If you are seeing these predictors present in your relationship it is time to seek professional assistance and mend the relationship before it is too late. Contact us regarding couples counseling in San Francisco or any of our other locations today.