Throughout your marriage, pay particular attention to the following four behaviors (The Big Red Flags), which are considered to be especially destructive and predictive of marital failure.
Be on alert for the big red flags: criticism, defensiveness, contempt, and stonewalling.￼￼￼￼
There’s a big difference between complaining and criticizing. A complaint focuses on a specific behavior, such as “I’m angry you didn’t put your clothes in the hamper.” But a criticism goes the next step and assigns a character trait, such as “You’re so lazy!”
In response to a complaint, it might seem natural to defend yourself. But rather than defuse the attack, this response usually escalates it. Defensiveness is really a way of blaming your spouse. You’re saying, in effect, “The problem isn’t me, it’s you.”
Too much negativity leads to conversations full of sarcasm, cynicism, and mockery. Contempt is poisonous to a relationship. It conveys disgust, and it eats away at any good in the relationship.
When there’s no hope of progress, one partner (the man in percent of cases) simply tunes out. He doesn’t care; he doesn’t even appear to hear. Stonewalling usually arrives last. It represents a deadly disconnection.
Criticism, defensiveness, contempt, and stonewalling can sneak into even the best
of relationships. Undoubtedly, an occasional snipe at one’s spouse will occur at some point in the marriage, but be on alert—if a conscious effort is not made to stop these behaviors, they create a cycle of negativity that becomes increasingly destructive and difficult to stop. * Adapted from Gottman, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work.