This week, Al and Tipper Gore announced their marital separation after 40 years of marriage. The couple has known each other since high school and raised four children together. The reason given for the impending divorce was that they have grown apart—a common cause cited for couples going their separate ways.
Growing apart is a process understood by marital therapists. The road to emotional distance is well documented thanks to the efforts of marital researcher John Gottman. Couples lock into negative cycles of interactions that often lead them apart. They turn away from each other rather than towards each other when stress mounts. Instead of forming a united front against stress and life pressures, the spouse becomes the enemy or is not sought as a source of help.
The progression of growing apart begins with criticism. Criticism leads to feelings of contempt. Those feelings raise defensiveness. Defensiveness is a self-preservation response to relationship problems. It blocks intimacy and is usually motivated by fear and insecurity when you feel attacked. When your spouse is overly critical or on the attack, it is easy to become defensive. But if you stay defensive, the relationship suffers. Defensiveness leads to stonewalling. Stonewalling is just like it sounds-putting up a stone wall and shutting the partner out of your life. The result is emotional distance-the number one predictor of divorce.
Marital therapy helps stop this negative cycle of growing apart and teaches couples to turn towards each other in times of stress. Therapy aims at strengthening the emotional bond and repairing relationship damage quickly.
It is sad when we see couples such as the Gores call it quits after years of marriage, especially when I know so many marriages like theirs could be saved if they were willing to submit to the therapy process. The path to lost love is known and can be turned around. But it takes a commitment by the couple.
Do not allow your marriage to grow apart. If you see the signs of criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling operating, contact a licensed marital therapist and get help.
Do you agree that too many couples divorce over fixable problems?
~ Dr. Linda
Promo: Lost that loving feeling? Get a copy of Dr. Linda’s book, I Married You, Not Your Family and visit her Web site for couple help, www.drlindahelps.com.