What Predicts Divorce?
John Gottman has been researching relationships for over 40 years. He has studied healthy and unhealthy couples. He has learned that both the "masters" of relationships and the "disasters" have predictable patterns and consistent characteristics that in fact predict with uncanny accuracy whether a relationship will survive and thrive, or struggle--and die. Dr. Gottman has identified several predictors for divorce. While he would be the first to say that nothing is set in stone, these relationship traits will certainly slant the playing field against any couple that uses them. If you see your relationship in the following list, DON'T consider it a death sentence. Consider it warning and a chance to make changes.
Several of these divorce predictors pertain to how couples manage conflict. That makes sense. Interestingly, couples conflict on a pretty limited range of issues. Healthy couples disagree over most of the same things unhealthy couples disagree over. So, the topic is rarely the problem. The problem--and what leads to divorce--is HOW we deal with those issues.
Most of Gottman's divorce predictors have to do with poor conflict management.
He lists four:
1: Harsh startup. The first few moments of any conversation
almost invariably predict how that conversation will go.
Unhealthy couples tend to start problem conversations with
blame, accusation or insult. They often use global language.
"Why do you always....?" or "You never....what is wrong with
you?" Starting this way is a hand written invitation to an
argument. Chances of a positive, engaging conversation
after a harsh startup are virtually nil.
2: The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Gottman coined
this term after the biblical predictors of disaster from the
Book of Revelation. The four of them run together and, when one enters the room, the others are never far behind. They are: Criticism (blame, accusation, the kind of harsh startup mentioned above), which is often followed by Defensiveness (arguing back, making excuses, refuting, self-righteousness, etc.). The third horseman is Contempt (which predicts divorce more than any of the four). This is insult, ridicule, belittling and minimizing our partner. Gottman calls it "sulfuric acid for love." The last of the four horsemen is Stonewalling. This is where one spouse shuts down, "checks out" of the conversation, either literally or figuratively. It might be an attempt to de-escalate things, but it often only throws gas on the fire. These are the Four Horsemen; Gottman has learned that, when they are present, things usually only get worse. (See the video box above.)
3. Failed Repair Attempts. A repair attempt is when we realize that the conversation is not going well and we try to get it back on track. We might use humor, apologize or perhaps change the subject. Healthy couples get the point and realize that two wrongs don't make a right. They try to catch the conversation before it goes too far in the wrong direction. But, when we have a reservoir of resentment, when we are bitter and want payback, we often won't let go of the fight. Instead of repair, we retaliate. Both sides lose. This is a red flag.
4. Bad memories. When things are bad in a relationship, not only do we often see the present through "dark glasses." We see the past that way too. The stories we tell often dwell on mistakes or failures that prove our conviction that our partner, or the relationship as a whole, is no good. We "exaggerate the losses and forget about the wins." This is a telltale sign of a relationship that needs help.
There are other warning signs, but these are the four that John Gottman names as predictors of divorce. Again, if you see them in your relationship, be advised, but don't be hopeless. If you are driving your car and approach a warning sign that says, "Bridge Out Ahead," it doesn't mean that you are going to crash and die--unless you keep going. Hopefully, you will turn around. The choice is yours. Heed the warning and you will be wiser for it.
The same is true in your relationship. Maybe it is time to turn around.
Call Mark today.