Malcolm Gladwell is one of my favorite authors. He has written several award winning books including Blink, Tipping Point, Outliers, and What the Dog Saw. Gladwell is a story teller who is able to pull the most unusual stories out of otherwise mundane events. He explains why most professional hockey players are born in the first few months of the year, why it makes good economic sense to give free homes wot homeless people, and he tells the story of John Gottman.
Gottman is a therapist who specializes in micro-expressions in relationships, among other things. If you have ever seen the failed TV series, “Lie To Me“, then you probably have heard of micro-expressions. Gottman believes that, by closely observing facial clues and physical body reactions during a couple’s interactions that you can, with some surety, predict the likelihood of them staying together or breaking up. He brags that after only a few hours with any couple he can tell, with 95% accuracy, whether or not this couple will still be together in five years.
Anyone who works with couples can tell you that you don’t need to look for micro-expressions to be able to tell if a couple is going to make it. After working with hundreds of fighting couples you develop a sense of intuition. You can usually tell, within minutes, if a couple is in trouble or not. This is because couples have an emotional divorce long before they ever have a legal one. To everyone on the outside things are going fine but the couple has already started emotionally disengaging from each other. They begin to realize, often subconsciously, that they cannot be honest with each other, that they cannot connect on a deep level without being criticized or devalued.
Couples who are getting an emotional divorce are angry. Things that would not be hurtful coming from a complete stranger are painful and derisive. They seem to be mad at each other all the time and will tell you, “he/she makes me so angry”. The smallest things become issues of contention.
There is a certain wisdom in second marriages. Getting with a new partner who doesn’t know your triggers gives you a chance to have an emotional honeymoon before you start to piss each other off. Unfortunately, though, the other person will eventually find out you chew your nails, or open your mouth when you chew, or have stupid opinions and you will be facing the
Here are three sure fire signs that you may be heading for an emotional divorce:
1. You no longer communicate like you used to.
Couples in trouble stop connecting on a romantic level. They can no longer have deep conversations. Eventually they cannot have any form of conversation. They have been together so long that they know each others ‘buttons’. Every word out of their mouths is ‘loaded’ or at least perceived to be so. Couples at this stage come to realize that real communication with the other is impossible and your partner doesn’t get you and probably never will.
2. You start keeping score.
Another early sign of emotional divorce is when you become resentful about doing things for your partner, such as picking up their messes or going out of your way to help them. Relationship therapists call this ‘score-keeping’. This refers to the tendency to unconsciously tally up who is getting what from the relationship. That whole concept of sacrifice was nice in theory but you begin to notice an imbalance in who is giving and who is taking. You are tired of sacrificing for someone who is selfish.
Couples who are emotionally divorcing no longer look to their partner to be their best friend. They realize that this other person can no longer meet their deepest needs and continue to disengage. These couples usually find their sex life waning in importance and many of the females no longer emotionally connect and therefore experience fewer and fewer orgasms or satisfying sexual encounters.
3. Criticism has become your preferred method of communication.
Couples who are destined for the court room have come to realize that they can no longer work with their partner to overcome issues and have decided that they can criticize, negate, put down, and use passive-aggressive hints to get their way.
Criticism is the absolute best way to find yourself surfing Match.com in the coming years. Every day I speak with partners who think they can somehow get what they need by putting their significant other in their place.
So how is your relationship doing? If you are having significant communication problems, have starting keeping score, and are critical of your spouse; then chances are you are headed for an emotional divorce and will eventually give up half your stuff. Don’t minimize the problem. Couples who are not willing to address these insipid issues are virtually guaranteed to be divorced in the future.
There are no special cases. There are no partnerships ‘made in heaven’. A healthy relationship is not a miracle. There are no happy couples who are that way simply because it was ‘meant to be’. There are few exceptions in this world of choices – if you don’t do the work you will be divorced and alone. A good marriage/relationship is extremely hard work and only those who are willing to humbly work every day on their stuff with another person who is equally committed are going to make it.
Coming Up: How To Know If Your Relationship Is Right.
- The Six Signs of Impending Divorce (sammargulies.com)
- The Four Horseman of Marital Doom (recoveringwayward.wordpress.com)
- The Eight Reasons that People Cheat on Their Partners (psychologytoday.com)