Based on numerous studies of how married couples interact, John Gottman has sorted couples into five types: Validating, Volatile, Conflict-Avoiding, Hostile, and Hostile–Detached. Validating, Volatile, and Conflict-Avoiding couples are generally happy in their marriages, Hostile couples are unhappy, but none of these types are likely to divorce. On the other hand, Hostile-Detached couples are unhappy and may be heading toward divorce. Each type is different, but you can know what type of marriage you have and how likely you are to be happy or get divorced by reviewing the characteristics of each type of marriage and seeing if you recognize how you and your spouse interact.
Validating Couples. These couples generally interact in a calm relaxed way. They can become emotional, but most of the time they are calm and reasonable. Validating couples emphasize supporting and understanding each other’s points of view when they discuss an issue rather than arguing or getting angry. These couples confront each other only on certain topics and they consistently avoid raising touchy issues that might become competitive and turn into an angry power struggle. When they do become angry or competitive, they quickly recognize what is happening, calm themselves down, and compromise about the issue. When these couples are arguing, they generally express mild feelings to their spouse and quickly repair any damage done during the disagreement. Their ratio of positive to negative interactions is also above five to one.
Volatile Couples. Volatile couples are emotional about almost everything. When they disagree about something, they try to persuade their partner throughout the discussion, but their disagreements are characterized by laughter, shared amusement, and humor rather than anger or frustration. They love to argue, but don’t insult or criticize each other when discussing an issue. Volatile couples may express anger during their discussions, but for the most part they stay connected with each other and are honest in their communications and interactions. Volatile couples rarely criticize each other and they take steps to repair any damage they may have done to their relationship when they finish arguing.
Conflict Avoiders. These couples rarely raise issues where they have a major disagreement and concentrate instead on discussing areas of agreement. They avoid conflict, don’t ask each other for what they need, and feel their relationship is generally happy. These couples are fairly independent, have clear boundaries, and separate interests. Conflict Avoiders generally maintain a positive to negative interaction ratio of five to one, primarily by avoiding discussing any issue where they disagree and only talking about things they have in common.
Hostile Couples. Hostile couples interact like validating couples, except both partners often become defensive during their disagreements. Generally, the husband is a validator and the wife an avoider. These couples criticize each other a great deal, often using statements such as “you always” and “you never.” They also whine a lot when they argue. During a disagreement, they spend a lot of time pleading their own position and little time trying to understand their spouse’s point of view. Hostile couples express a lot of contempt for each other during their debates and they are not happily married, but surprisingly they rarely divorce.
Hostile–Detached Couples. These couples are locked in a continuous war with no winner. They are frustrated with each other most of the time and can’t seem to find a way out of their on-going conflict. They criticize each other with a cold detachment rather than honest emotion. Hostile-detached couples fight until one of them tries to back down, offers to compromise, or withdraw from the argument and tries to repair the damage. However, the other spouse won’t let him or her stop fighting and make up. Instead, they remain angry and locked in a cycle of frustration and fighting.
Hostile–detached couples often divorce, while hostile couples don’t. Why is that? Primarily because hostile couples can recognize their angry feelings, regulate their negative emotions, and make attempts to repair any damage done to their relationship when they realize an argument is getting out-of- hand. Hostile–detached couples can’t do that. Instead, their fights get nastier over time until they finally call it quits and divorce.