Friday, I offered some insights from Chuck Klosterman when it comes to adultery. This is definitely related, but more from the standpoint of what erodes a good relationship. Klosterman pointed out what made cheating and a more than likely subsequent relational breakup possible. Malcolm Gladwell is going to indirectly highlight what makes a relational breakup probable.
The Four Horsemen
In the opening chapter of Blink, Gladwell tells the story of John Gottman, a psychologist at the University of Washington. Gottman has perfected the art of “thin-slicing” a conversation between a husband and wife. With an hour of conversation, he can predict with 95% accuracy whether the couple will be together 15 years later. With only 15 minutes, he is still 90% accurate, and is even still impressive with only a few minutes of observation.
In his ability to “thin-slice,” that is, to intuitively put together a relational pattern based on brief observational cues, Gottman zeroes in on what he calls the “four horsemen”: defensiveness, stonewalling, criticism, and contempt. All of these he takes into account when forming a prediction of a couple’s relational health. It doesn’t take an expert though to look at these four attitudes and speculate that high levels of any of them aren’t a good sign. But when it comes down to it, Gottman has found that you actually only need to focus in on one.
One Attitude To Ruin It All
While we may think of stonewalling as a gentleman’s game, and criticism as the wife’s past-time, thereby setting up a vicious circle, neither of them are the one attitude to ruin it all. Contempt transcends gender stereotypes and basically manifests itself the same in men and women alike. And that is why it is the single most important factor Gottman takes into account in measuring a relationship’s overall health. While criticism points out flaws, contempt kicks it up a notch and begins to look down on the other person as inferior in some regard. If Gottman observes this attitude in one or both marriage partners, “he considers it the single most important sign that the marriage is in trouble” (32). What’s more, it “can even predict such things as how many colds a husband or a wife gets” because “having someone you love express contempt toward you is so stressful that it begins to affect the functioning of the immune system” (33).
In other words, if you want to know how to destroy a marriage with a single attitude, all you have to do is pour on some contempt. Leave it unchecked and let it fester and eventually your marriage will dissolve better than if you’d poured battery acid on it. If in the meantime you decide it’s unreasonable to be monogamous, then you’ll find yourself looking for someone new to hookup with. If you regularly slept with your spouse before you were married, you already are somewhat comfortable with what it feels like to have sex outside marriage. Once the acid does its trick, you’ll move on, and perhaps start the cycle all over again…