One of the most useful recent research findings is the work which has identified the early warning signs of deterioration of an intimate relationship. Based on these signs, researchers have been able to predict with a very high degree of accuracy (about 90%) which relationships are likely to end within a few years. This information is crucial in accepting when your relationship is in need of more attention or help.

Dr. J. Gottman and colleagues at the University of Washington have found that there are four specific signs of deterioration of an intimate relationship. In order of increasing danger, they are listed below:

  1. Criticism: Instead of merely complaining, the person attacks and blames their partner’s personality and/or character e.g. “you are a selfish uncaring person”.
  2. Contempt: Feedback with the intent to insult and/or psychologically abuse the partner e.g. “you are more than stupid: a total idiot”.
  3. Defensiveness: Not being willing to listen to anything your partner has to say to you, out of fear of them hurting or attacking you.
  4. Stonewalling: Ignoring, avoiding and distancing from your partner.

Dr. H. Markman and Dr. S. Stanley at the University of Colorado have also identified four warning signs of deterioration:

  1. Escalation of negativity during the couples’ interaction: An increase in complaining and criticism.
  2. Invalidation of each other: Not making attempts to understand each other’s point of view.
  3. Negative interpretation of neutral or positive events: When one person does or says something which is clearly meant to be neutral or even positive, but their partner interprets their intentions as being hostile or negative.
  4. Avoidance or withdrawal from partner.

These research findings are very similar, despite completely different couples and research agenda. If you notice that your relationship is experiencing two or more of these signs, maybe it is time to focus your attention to it. An ounce of prevention can save an incredible amount of emotional, financial and physical pain.