The 4 Horsemen of Divorce: Valentine’s Day Isn’t for Everyone

by | Feb 7, 2023 | 1 comment

“You don’t die from a broken heart, you only wish you did.”


The rate at which people file for divorce in the United States dips during the last months of every year, an occurrence often attributed to the holiday season. Divorce filings then skyrockets in January and ebb in March. While it would seem that people would postpone divorce filing during the month of love, the opposite is true. Most researchers report that February is the busiest month of the year for divorce filings: up 18% over all other months. So, while Valentine’s Day is great for some, it’s like waiting for the hammer to drop for others; as opposed to Cupid’s arrow making a direct hit to the heart. If you are going through a divorce or your gut tells you that one is looming, there are some things to remember to get you through what can be either a breakup or a wakeup moment. 

The root meaning of divorce comes from the Latin word “diverte”, which means to “divert”. And with more than three decades of experience representing clients in divorce, along with going through two divorces of my own, I’ve come to believe that divorce is simply a diversion. Although it’s normal to focus on the faults of your partner during a divorce, it’s also an opportunity to focus on the part you have played in your relationship’s demise. Instead of looking at the failure of a relationship as a negative thing, look at it as an opportunity to learn about yourself and what role you have played in its failure. This will help you avoid making the same mistakes again and again.

As Albert Einstein observed: “We can’t solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them“.

There are two major reasons we learn about ourselves in an intimate relationship:

Our true personalities come out.

Your personality is more on display with your partner than it is with friends and acquaintances because you don’t spend as much time with them or have the same emotional expectations as those sharing an intimate relationship. If your boyfriend or girlfriend is similar in personality to you, what you learn about them is a reflection of yourself. You wouldn’t normally come to such realizations if you were on your own.

We learn communication is critical.

A relationship is made up of two people who are not mind readers (although one may think they are). A failed relationship teaches you that communication is the key to understanding another person. Without both people communicating well, arguments and agitation are likely to occur over and over again. This may result in one or both people feeling that they’re not valued, appreciated or cared for. When communication fails, the other person’s actions often become too much to handle and thoughts of calling it quits inevitably follow.

Is there Contempt in Your Relationship?

The major takeaway from a failed relationship is to look for signs of contempt in your current relationship. Through careful observation of couples in a relationship, the research laboratory at the Gottman Institute at the University of Washington learned to predict, with more than 90% accuracy, whether a married couple would stay together or get divorced. The researchers’ objective was to pinpoint specific behaviors that lead to divorce in order to help people in difficult marriages change their behaviors, with the goal of saving the marriage. In other words, to convert contempt back to commitment. Dr. John Gottman, the founder of the institute, refers to these behavioural patterns that often lead to divorce as “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse”. If these behaviors are not worked on after the failure of one relationship, the success of future relationships will be in jeopardy.

The Four Horsemen are:


1. Criticism

An expression of blaming a partner for the problems in the relationship, criticism appears as an attack on a partner’s personality or character. If not addressed, criticism of your partner can escalate to the point of assigning your partner the full lowdown of their flaws as a person, partner, parent, homosapien, primate, mammal…

2. Defensiveness

A response to criticism, defensiveness occurs when a partner feels the need to defend themselves from feelings they perceive when the other person is criticizing them. Defensivness often accompanies anger, hurt and shame.

3. Contempt

A person’s withdraw from “the” conversation is often a sign of contempt. This can often resuting in feeling like you are “talking to a wall”.

4. Stonewalling

A response to criticism, stonewalling occurs when a partner feels they need to defend themselves from feeling angry, hurt, or shamed as a result of perceiving the other person is criticizing them.

If you see any of these signs creeping into your relationship at the beginning of it, you’d be well advised to think about ending it.

In a time when the expectation for marriages and partnerships have never been greater, and the chance for their long-term success has never been lower (50% for first marriages, 65% for second, and 75% for third), it’s crucial to know yourself. Remember to treat yourself with kindness, not contempt, before you can work on loving someone else.

1 Comment

  1. Thank you for this very thought provoking blog. I wish I had the were with all to have learned this when I was married. Now, 38 years later and not ever remarried, I realize how much I did not understand about relationships back then. Thank you Nancy! I loved AROUND WHICH ALL THINGS BEND & am looking forward to the next book!


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Legal Disclaimer

The information in this article is for educational purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice or establish an attorney-client relationship. I am a writer who is also a lawyer, helping lay people learn about law-related issues. Consult a qualified lawyer in your jurisdiction for all legal opinions for your specific situation.

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