The Four Relational Germs

By Dr. Howard Markman & Dr. Scott Stanley

Dr. Howard Markman and Dr. Scott Stanley have discovered through over 20 years of research that there are four main risk factors (germs) that can lead to divorce. In their excellent book, Fighting For Your Marriage, they share that we greatly increase our chances of staying in love and in harmony if we avoid these four negative patterns. Here are the four main "germs" that can produce too much anger and possibly lead to divorce:

1. Withdrawal during an argument.
Here one mate closes the other person out after an argument starts. For example, statements like:
"I'm not talking about that any more, it's too hurtful.""I'll just leave the house if you continue talking about this. End of discussion; it's over.""That subject is not open for discussion."

2. Escalating during an argument.
Here, the argument can get ugly. Escalation is when a person starts defending or trying to win an argument. Here, he or she volleys back and forth with shame and defensive statements. For example, shouting, blaming each other, using degrading names directed at your mate and trying to win the argument instead of cooperating as a team to solve the disagreement. Statements like the following might be used during escalation:
"Don't you ever accuse me of that again!""It's your fault that he talks to me like that, you're a great example!""Forget it then. Go out with your friends, see if I care! Stay out all night, you like them better than me anyway."There is usually an over use of the word "you" in an accusatory manner.

3. Belittling each other during an argument.
Here, one mate accuses the other of being "dumb" or "stupid" in their thinking or feelings. Somehow, one mate is trying to belittle the other and prove that he or she is better than the other is. This is the most destructive potential divorce risk pattern. It is also the opposite choice of honor.
"That's the dumbest statement I have ever heard.""When will you ever get it right?""You've been thinking from the wrong part of your body."

4. Having exaggerated or false beliefs about your mate during an argument.
Here, one mate may believe that the other is trying to ruin or weaken the marriage on purpose.
"You're always including your family. They've been between us our whole married life!" "You don't see it do you? You're too negative and it's driving me away!" "You say you're sorry, but you keep doing the same mean things over and over. You'll never change!" The major problem with this fourth germ is that what humans believe about another, they tend to see and hear even if it isn't true. In other words, what you believe about another person (positive or negative), you will find evidence of that belief in everything he or she does or says.

Excerpted from “Fighting for your Marriage”
by Howard Markman, PhD & Scott Stanley, PhD
Reprinted with permission of the Smalley Relationship Center
Find this book and others to build your relationship at

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