4 Signs of a Troubled Marriage

The country’s foremost relationship expert, John Gottman, PhD, has discovered through years of research four things that some couples do which reliably predict divorce ahead for them unless they recognize and change these things.

  1. Harsh Startup
  2. The “Four Horsemen of the Apocalyse”
  3. Flooding
  4. The Body Language of Emotional Distress

Let’s look at each one.

Harsh Startup

In a discussion or disagreement, someone gets negative, sarcastic, condescending or accusatory in words or tone in the first three minutes.  “I don’t know why I bother talking to you about this, but would you please pick up your damn socks!”

“The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse”

These are four negative behaviors that are lethal to a relationship.

  1. Criticism – “What is wrong with you?  I’ve told you not to do it that way.”
  2. Contempt – name-calling, sneering, eye-rolling, mockery, laughing at in a hostile way.
  3. Defensiveness – “Me?  I haven’t’ done anything wrong!  You’re the problem!”
  4. Stonewalling – one partner simply tunes out,  walks away, refuses to answer or acknowledge and disengages emotionally and physically from the other.


There is so much criticism, yelling, name-calling, contempt, blaming or general hostility from one spouse that the other feels overwhelmed, hurt, angry, helpless, often to the point where he or she just shuts down.

Body Language of Severe Emotional Distress

  • Heart rate elevate to >100 beats per minute
  • Adrenaline kicks in, ready for fight or flight
  • Blood pressure rises
  • Sweating
  • Higher thought processes (necessary for creative  problem solving) shut down

These behaviors tend to build upon each other, says Dr. Gottman, such that one leads to another in a mounting storm.  The good news is that you can learn to recognize and stop this pattern.  A good first step is to admit to yourself (and your partner) what role you might play in this kind of interaction.  Are you the one who starts it, so fed up that you can’t help taking a jab? Are you the one who gets outraged and defensive because the accusation seems so unfair?

Deep-seated emotional reactions like these usually take professional help to alter.  However, in my next article we’ll look at some of the important changes that make a big difference.  And, you can always look for one of Dr. Gottman’s excellent books for a complete explanation.

3 Tips to Deal with Austin’s Brutal Summer

Devastating drought! Raging wildfires! Burning heat that just goes on and on! Animals and plants dying. Has all this left you feeling a bit depressed? If so, you are not alone. This summer’s weather is a classic recipe for depression: a negative or painful situation over which you are powerless. There is nothing any of us can do to stop the heat or bring the rain. The “last straw” (we hope) was the arrival of the cool front which helped block the tropical storm rains we so desperately needed.

Actually, terrible things happen to people every day, and, while we can’t stop them from happening, how we cope with the things we don’t want makes a big difference in how we feel. Take the drought, for instance. If you just complain and do nothing about it, you will feel helpless, discouraged and maybe depressed. But, there are three important things you can do to feel better.

1) View this weather as a challenge rather than a stopper.

What we think has a profound effect on how we feel. “This is awful, and I can’t bear it” is one thought about the weather. A different view would be, “I don’t like this weather, but I’m not letting it get ME down!” The latter is a thought that reflects confidence, energy and resilience. It is likely to engender creative ideas and coping strategies that lead to action and a more positive mood.

2) Find ways to make even a very small difference for yourself or another creature.

What about taking action to help somebody? How about donating to Austin Energy for another Austinite to have AC or a fan? Perhaps giving someone who is walking a ride? Could you put out a bird feeder and a bird bath? Or adopt a dog or cat? Or help the kids hand water an elderly neighbor’s prized rosebushes? Take homemade cookies to your neighborhood fire department? Call your church or another local charitable organization and find out how you can help. Look online, choose one that sounds good to you and make that call! Two organizations helping fire victims are:

American Red Cross of Central Texas : 512-928-4271 or www.centex.redcross.org/index.asp?IDCapitulo=F9ZLZNZ3KD

Austin Disaster Relief Network Fire Victim Relief: 512-825-8211 or www.adrntx.org

And don’t forget to take care of yourself! This may be the time to tackle that chore you’ve been putting off. Or start planning a cactus rock garden in your yard. Or take up Yoga. Or get serious about finding a new doctor. Or take a bottle of water and go for a brisk walk in the nice, cool Mall!

3) Practice gratitude for what you have.

Think about someone you know or have heard of who was courageous in adversity. In spite of tremendous loss or a short time to live, people like this manage to keep on living and loving and daring and doing. They see life as a gift and find joy in gratitude for small, everyday things. Do you have enough to eat? Do you have a home? Can you go to bed at night without fear? Do you have a friend? What else is good about your life?

Yes, this has been a rough summer, and it’s not over yet. We still need rain. But we can be tough-minded, we can take action and we can count our blessings .

What are YOUR ideas?

LATE WORD: The fire danger is real. Plan your escape and pack a bag now. If you are told to leave, GO.