Peter Pearson

Perhaps you have heard of the famous Johnstown flood on May 31, 1889. It was caused by catastrophic failure of the South Fork Dam 14 miles upstream of Johnstown, Pennsylvania. What could this have to do with a marriage in distress?

Warnings were repeatedly given about the structural integrity of the dam. And they were repeatedly ignored. Moments before the dam burst, messages were sent to evacuate. They, too, were ignored.

When the dam burst, 20 million tons of water escaped in 40 minutes. The great wave measured 35-40 feet high and hit Johnstown at 40 miles per hour. The force of the flood swept several locomotives weighing 170,000 pounds as far as 4,800 feet.

More than 2200 people drowned.

As with all disasters, people were outraged and looked for someone to blame.

Disaster, outrage, blame. Hmmm, it sounds like a lot of divorces.

It’s not uncommon in couples therapy that one person is on the way out of a relationship after sending warnings to the partner that things were bad. Often many warnings. Sometimes it is simply too late.

It’s part of our human nature to deny, minimize, tune out, and wait till it is too late. Let the finger-pointing begin.

Most of the time I like to write optimistic articles that are entertaining and informative. But sadly, in the past few weeks I’ve seen too many couples whose patterns remind me of the Johnstown flood.

Perhaps if you have a “State of the Union” discussion with your honey, you won’t end up in couples therapy saying, “But I didn’t think you were really serious.”

If the “dam” needs repairs, now is a good time to start.

About 

Peter Pearson, Ph.D., Relationship & Teamwork Expert for Entrepreneur Couples

Pete has been training and coaching couples to become a strong team since 1984 when he co-founded The Couples Institute with his psychologist wife, Ellyn Bader.

Their popular book, “Tell Me No Lies,” is about being honest with compassion and growing stronger as a couple.

Pete has been featured on over 50 radio and television programs including “The Today Show,” "Good Morning America,” and "CBS Early Morning News,” and quoted in major publications including “The New York Times,” “Oprah Magazine,” “Redbook,” “Cosmopolitan,” and “Business Insider.”


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  1. Love this Pete! As always, your use of language and writing is captivating and brings the reader to a place of “Ah Ha” moments!

  2. Thank you Pete – very accurate analogy. I guess it is similar to the bush fires in Australia when people don’t take care of the vegetation building up around their houses or clearing the gutters etc.

  3. Thanks, Pete,
    It is bleak and grim when partners just don’t hear or believe the heavy hints. My last couple tonight is a sad example. A very useful and profound story

  4. Great analogy! I’ll be using this one for sure! Thanks so much for sharing.

    Best,

    Kathy Hardie-Williams, M.Ed, MS, NCC, LPC, LMFT

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