Portland Relationship Institute

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Warning Signs of Serious Relationship Problems

Warning Signs of Serious Relationship Problems

Dr. John. Gottman and Dr. Julie Gottman at the University of Washington have found that there are four specific signs of deterioration of an intimate relationship. In order of increasing danger, they are listed below.  He has discovered these indicators through intensive research with couples who spend 24 - 48 hours in his "relationship laboratory" in Seattle.   In his 20 plus years of research he can predict with a very high degrees of accuracy which relationships are able to repair hurt, loss and betrayal by looking at these 4 characteristics:

Criticism - instead of merely complaining, the person attacks and blames their partner's personality and/or character, such as "you are an immature and weak person"

Contempt - feedback with the intent to insult and/or psychologically abuse the partner, such as "you are more than stupid: a total idiot."

Defensiveness - not being willing to listen to anything your partner has to say to you, out of fear of them hurting or attacking you; and 

Stonewalling - ignoring, avoiding and distancing from your partner.


  • Gottman, J. M. (1993). A theory of marital dissolution and stability. Journal of Family Psychology, 7, 57-75;
  • Gottman, J. (1999). The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. Crown Books.

Dr. H. Markman and Dr. S. Stanley at the University of Colorado have also identified four warning signs of deterioration:

Escalation of negativity during the couples' interaction - an increase in complaining and criticism;

Invalidation of each other - not making attempts to understand each other's points of view;

Negative interpretation of neutral or positive events - when one person does or says something which is clearly meant to be neutral or even positive, but their partner interprets their intentions as being hostile or negative; and

Avoidance and withdrawal from partner.


  • Markman, H.J., Floyd, F.J., Stanley, S.M., & Storaasli, R.D. (1988) Prevention of marital distress: A longitudinal investigation. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 56, 210-217;
  • Markman, H., Stanley, S. and Blumberg, S. Fighting for Your Marriage: Positive Steps Preventing Divorce and Preserving a Lasting Love, 1994.

These research findings are very similar, despite completely different couples and research agendas. If you notice that your relationship is experiencing two or more of these signs, your relationship needs some extra help and attention An ounce of prevention can save an incredible amount of emotional, financial and physical pain.

Call us at 503-342-2510
  gethelp@portlandrelationshipinstitute.com and let us show you how to resolve past hurts and resentments, and create a more loving, close, healthy relationship that can last a lifetime.

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