How to tell if your marriage will be a success?

The 4 predictors of marriage success or failure

In my last blog I wrote about the fascinating research by Dr John Gottman who claims he can predict the success or failure of a marriage with over 90% accuracy.  The negative behaviours which are deemed to be predictors to marriage success or failure are stonewalling, defensiveness, contempt and criticism.

My last blog touched on Contempt (the biggest badie), but what about the three others?  Let’s unpack them here:

man and woman on opposite ends of a bench facing away from each other
Gottman studied the behaviours which can predict marriage success or failure


Stonewalling is when one party dismisses the other party.  I know this firsthand because my first husband was a Grade A stonewaller and it drove me nuts.  When I’d approach him about something I wanted to talk about, I’d invariably be met with “Don’t start on me now,”  if he sensed the subject might be controversial, have something to do with feelings or discussing problems, or hold him in a not so great light.  Eventually, he needn’t have worried because I just stopped talking at all.

Men stonewall more than women, withdrawing from the interaction, closing into themselves and shutting down.  They build an emotional wall between themselves and their partner and that’s not healthy.

However, when women stonewall, it’s a big predictor of divorce.

Man and woman in a park both sitting on a bench facing away from each other with hands on their heads looking sad
Stonewalling is something men do more often than women however if women stonewall its a big predictor of divorce


Gottman defines defensiveness as, “self-protection in the form of righteous indignation or innocent victimhood in an attempt to ward off a perceived attack.”

Thanks to Only You Forever , here are some sure-fire ways to put your spouse into a defensive mindset:

  1. Use words or tone of voice that evaluates or judges the listener (“I see you are on your phone…again”)
  2. Attempt to control or coerce the listener (“If you don’t put that down I am going to freak on you.”)
  3. Strategic or manipulative communication (targeting, needling or guilting over it)
  4. Neutral speech that conveys a lack of concern (#hairflip you’re on your phone again)
  5. Implications of superiority
  6. Dogmatism or certainty in your own opinion
  7. Any behaviour that your spouse deems threatening or punishing
  8. Loud or rapid speech
  9. Frequent interruptions or corrections
Man and woman on park bench facing away from each other in contemplation
Work on creating a more positive marriage culture


Criticism which is meant to make your partner feels rejected, hurt or small is toxic to a loved-up relationship.  Criticism is not to be confused with constructive criticism which doesn’t attack someone’s character but rather focuses on specific behaviours.

Constant criticism is a major predictor of divorce because it’s difficult to be around someone who is always pointing out your flaws and shortcomings.  Over time, unconstructive criticism such as critiquing, disapproval, nitpicking and blaming erodes away any healthy areas of any relationship.

Dr Jessica Higgins offers ‘10 signs that you might be too critical in a relationship’:

  1. You are very critical of yourself when you make a mistake (i.e. what do you automatically tell yourself when you make a mistake?). If you are highly critical with yourself, then you are probably highly critical of others.
  2. Your parents were highly critical and/or had high expectations.
  3. You tend to be a perfectionist.
  4. You tend to offer editorial commentary on others appearance, home, and choices.
  5. Your loved ones tell you that you are critical.
  6. You are easily offended and insulted.
  7. It is easier to find fault than praise. You will find the flaw rather than the positive.
  8. Even if your partner does 90% of a task, you focus on the 10% that is incomplete. You get preoccupied with how your partner didn’t complete the task to your liking, and you forget to focus on the value of your partner’s effort and help.
  9. You micromanage. You have a hard time letting go. If your partner didn’t complete a task in your preferred way, you will go afterward and fix it to your liking.
  10. You tend to view others’ mannerisms and behaviour as negative. As Steven Stosny jokes in his article about criticism, people will say  “I give feedback; you’re critical. I’m firm; you’re stubborn. I’m flexible; you’re wishy-washy. I’m in touch with my feelings; you’re hysterical!”
Man and woman in a park arguing using hand gestures
There are four negative behaviours which can impact the success or failure of our relationships

If you recognise you or your partner in any of these four negative behaviours, you might want to think about working on it either by yourselves, (hey, recognising behaviour is the first step, right!) or head to a marriage counsellor.  I know heaps, so shoot me an email and I’ll recommend someone fabulous.  Sometimes it helps to have a third person who’s objective to point out behaviours which we’re not aware of and if we open ourselves to help, we might just save our marriage = worth it!

Portrait of Sunshine Coast and Bribie Island marriage celebrant Lynette Maguire
Bribie Island and Sunshine Coast marriage celebrant

Dr Lynette Maguire is a popular Marriage Celebrant on Bribie Island and Sunshine Coast, who is fascinated with people and behaviours which prompted her attaining her first degree majoring in Psychology.