Connecting Families: A Relationship Enhancement Program


Crouter (Eds.), Just Living Together (pp.97-105).
Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Edin, K. (2000). Few good men: Why poor mothers don’t marry or remarry. American Prospect.
(January), 26-31.
Hoelter, L., & Stauffer, D. (2002). What does it mean to be “just living together” in the new
millennium? An Overview. In A. Booth & A. Crouter (Eds.), Just Living Together (pp.255-271).
Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Manning, M. (2002). The implications of cohabitation for children’s well-being.
In A. Booth & A. Crouter (Eds.), Just Living Together (pp.121-151). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence
Erlbaum Associates.
Connecting Families Penn State Cooperative Extension
Family Structure’s Impact on Children’s Development 66 2004
Morrison, D., & Ritualo, A. (2000). Routes to children’s economic recovery after divorce: Are
material cohabitation and remarriage equilvant? American Sociological Review. 65, 560-580.
Osborne, C., McLanahan, S., & Brooks-Gunn, J. (2003). Is there an advantage to being born to
married versus cohabiting parents? Differences in child behavior. Working Paper 03-09-FF.
Center for Research on Child Wellbeing, Princeton University. Retrieved November 10, 2003
Parke, M. (2003). Are married parents really better for children? Center for Law and Social
Policy, Washington D.C.: Center for Law and Social Policy. Brief 3.
Parke, M, & Ooms, T. (2002). More than a dating service? Center for Law and Social Policy,
Washington D.C.: Center for Law and Social Policy. Brief 2.
Raley, R., & Wildsmith, E. (2004). Cohabitation and children’s family instability. Journal of
Marriage and Family, 66, 210-219.
Connecting Families Penn State Cooperative Extension
Marriage Success and Divorce 67 2004
Marriage Success and Divorce
Scholars have for years been trying to uncover what makes a marriage successful. Many
theories attempt to predict the key elements of a couple’s relationship that determine its
survival. If the elements of marital success could be determined then couples could be
coached to improve their relationships’ well-being.
Foremost in this field of study is John Gottman who provided an empirical foundation for
understanding what makes a marriage work and what factors lead to divorce. Gottman’s
work focuses upon what he calls “The Four Horseman of the Apocalypse” – criticism,
defensiveness, contempt, and stonewalling (listener withdrawal) (Gottman, Coan,
Carrere, & Swanson, 1998). Rather than anger, the use of these in negative interactions
predicts divorce with 91 percent accuracy. A major finding of his work is that happy
couples know how to resolve their disagreements while unhappy couples frequently
envelop their relationship in negativity. Negativity escalates out of control when a couple
reciprocates each other’s negative attitudes, negative beliefs about their relationship and
negative responses.
The role that each partner plays in the cascade of negativity is typically different. In
almost all situations, it is the woman who raises the conflict issue. If done with a harsh
start up that uses criticism of her mate, the cycle is put into place to escalate. Typically
contempt follows through the use of sarcasm and cynicism. Contempt is poisonous to the
relationship for with it disgust is conveyed. Contempt leads to more conflict,
defensiveness and stonewalling. Men most typically use stonewalling as a protection
against feeling flooded by negativity. Flooding occurs when the individual feels totally
overwhelmed. In this state one has a physical reaction that elevates blood pressure and
increases stress hormone secretion. As a protective reaction, the man shuts down and
withdraws from the situation and interaction. Gottman has found that marriage meltdown
can be predicted, by the woman using a habitual harsh startup and the man frequent
flooding reaction brought on by the presence of “the four horseman” during
disagreements (Gottman & Silver, 1999). When interactions typically lead to flooding,
almost inevitably distanc ing between the couple occurs and that in turn leads to
Once the relationship becomes engulfed in a negative perception, the individuals lose
their positive perceptions of the relationship’s history and each other. In this state
negative behavior is attributed to the partner’s negative traits and the positivity of the
partner’s behavior is minimized by attributing it to fleeting, situational causes (Gottman,
1993). Happy couples maintain a positive perception of their past and their mate’s
character. They maintain a fondness and admiration for each other that prevents them
from using the “four horseman” to fan the flames of discontent.
Happy couples use techniques to protect their relationship when disagreement flares.
They develop mechanism called “repair attempts” that signal the conflict is getting out of
control. These can be silly or otherwise statements or actions that say “I love you,” but
Connecting Families Penn State Cooperative Extension
Marriage Success and Divorce 68 2004
we need to take a break and stop this disagreement for now. In happy marriages these
repair attempts are accepted and successful in decreasing emotional tension. In unhappy
marriages they are not accepted or fail to stop the interaction which continues to escalate
out of control. What Gottman has found is that most martial arguments cannot be
resolved (Gottman, 1999). This is because deeply rooted fundamental differences of
personality, lifestyle or values fuel these arguments. Happy couples have developed an
understanding of what these differences are and develop a shared purpose for their
Men in happy couples have also learned to accept their wives influence. Men accept
influence by sharing power and decision making. This is difficult for some men to accept
because boys are raised in our culture to accept influence from other boys not girls.
Research has demonstrated that wives of men who accept their influence are less likely to
be harsh with their husband and are more willing to compromise (Gottman, 1999). Men
who learn to yield will have far happier marriages.
Gottman’s research found happy couples do not use active listening when upset and
involved in disagreement (Gottman, Coan, Carrere, & Swanson, 1998). He suggests that
couples be helped to increase soft and gentle start- up, de-escalating, changing the balance
of power in favor of the husband’s acceptance of influence from his wife and increasing
soothing “repair attempts.” These patterns of behavior appear to be what has assisted
couples in strengthening and sustaining their relationship.
Gottman, J. (1993). A theory of marital dissolution and stability. Journal of Family Psychology,
7, 57-75.
Gottman, J., Coan, J., Carrere, S., & Swanson, C. (1998). Predicting martial happiness and
stability from newly wed interactions. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 60, 5-22.
Gottman, J., & Silver, N. (1999). The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. New York:
Three Rivers Press.

Article contributed by
Advanced Member

Veronica S. Haggerty


"A strong, healthy relationship can be one of the best things that can happen to you. However, it can also be one of the biggest drains on you if the relationship is not working. Relationships are like bank accounts. The more you put in, the more you get back. Falling in love is the easy part, but long term relationships take work, commitment, and a willingness to adapt and change through life as a team. Learn about ways to keep a healthy relationship strong, or begin to today to work on repairing trust and renewing love for a relationship on the rocks".

Location: New Hope, PA
Credentials: MA, MFT, RN
Latest Expert Videos
Must-see Videos
Most Popular