Dr. Pam Thompson

Dr. Pam Thompson

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Are You Headed for Divorce?


Recently, I have been bombarded with news of so many long-standing, “solid” Christian marriages amongst my friends and associates that are now headed for divorce. Additionally, I think the whole country was shocked by the announcement that Al and Tipper Gore were divorcing after FORTY years of what appeared to be blissful matrimony. Sadly, I recently heard on one of my favorite Christian radio talk shows (Living on the Edge hosted by Chip Ingram) that the statistics for divorce among Christians have now surpassed that of the secular world. Wow! Really? 

Well, there’s a complicated recipe for divorce as each couple’s issues and concerns are so-o-o-o unique. However, there are a few tried and true ingredients to which I invite you to take heed. I work from a model of couple’s therapy based on the voluminous body of research conducted by the nation’s premier researcher on marriage, Dr. John Gottman. His work has tremendously influenced my work and marriage, and I have tremendous respect for the level of detail and care he has given to RESEARCHING what so many other writers and therapists simply make up ideas about. 

This is a complex topic, but I’ll take a stab at providing a cursory overview of Gottman’s researched predictors of divorce. He calls them the Four Horses of the Apocalypse. They include: 1) Criticism (a growing list of complaints that eventually communicate “you not only dislike some things I do, but you dislike ME”; 2) Contempt (the act of making a complaint(s) personal; it’s not just name-calling and mean-spiritedness, but can be expressed in non-verbal cues as simple as rolling the eyes, sarcasm, mocking facial expressions, or laughing “at” vs. laughing “with”; 3) Defensiveness (push-back that minimizes one’s concerns or communicates that they shouldn’t matter or aren’t any worse than something the complaining person does him- or herself; defensiveness is OTHER-blaming and always deflects personal responsibility/ownership; it keeps hostility and resentment alive; and 4) Stonewalling (emotional shut-down or check-out, which is more common among men, but when a woman stonewalls, you can virtually smell the divorce papers; if a woman stops rowing the boat to keep her marriage afloat, it’s sinking fast). Of the four horsemen, you probably could guess that contempt is the biggest predictor of divorce. By the way, lots of arguing in marriage is not THE deal-breaker, but it is the lack of ability to successfully repair the damage when there has been a hostile exchange that is a killer. 

There’s so much more I could say about this, but do know that these are BIG warnings, especially if they’re occurring as the norm rather than the exception. If you’re nodding your head while reading this and seeing your marriage described here, PLEASE get some help. Just HOPING things will get better or just praying about it is NOT enough because hope is not a strategy (in the words of the famed General Patton), and remember faith without works is dead. Consider calling 1-800-Newlife for a quality marriage counselor near you or if you’re in Atlanta, call me at (404) 644-0710,


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