• Darrell & Robin MacLearn

Relationship Behaviors That Lead to Divorce 94% of the Time

Can you predict divorce? John Gottman, the co-founder of the Gottman Institute, has been able to predict divorce with 93.6% accuracy.  In his research, he has discovered 6 key elements that lead to divorce.

If you want to improve your relationships it is valuable to begin with an awareness of what causes relationships to unravel and fall apart.  Learning from others can lead to your success.  Below are John Gottman’s 6 predictors of divorce.

6 Things That Lead to Divorce 94% of the Time

1. Harsh Start-Up The most obvious indicator that a conflict discussion (and marriage) is not going to go well is the way it begins. When a discussion leads off with criticism and/or sarcasm (a form on contempt), it has begun with a “harsh startup.” Gottman’s research shows that if your discussion begins with a harsh startup, it will inevitably end on a negative note. Statistics tell the story: 96% of the time, you can predict the outcome of a conversation based on the first three minutes of the interaction.

2. Four Horsemen Certain kinds of negativity, if allowed to run rampant, are so lethal to a relationship that Gottman calls them the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Usually, these four horsemen clip-clop into the heart of a marriage in the following order: criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling. Read more about The Four Horsemen and their antidotes here.

3. Flooding Flooding means that your partner’s negativity – whether in the guise of criticism or contempt or even defensiveness – is so overwhelming, and so sudden, that it leaves you shell-shocked. A marriage’s meltdown can be predicted, then, by habitual harsh startup and frequent flooding brought on by the relentless presence of the four horsemen during disagreements. Although each of these factors alone can predict divorce, they usually coexist in an unhappy marriage. Read more about flooding here.

4. Body Language When Gottman’s team monitored couples for bodily changes during a conflict discussion, they could see just how physically distressing flooding was. One of the most apparent of these physical reactions is that the heart speeds up – pounding away at more than 100 beats per minute – even as high as 165. Hormonal changes occur, too, including the secretion of adrenaline. Blood pressure also mounts. The physical sensations of feeling flooded make it virtually impossible to have a productive, problem-solving discussion.

5. Failed Repair Attempts It takes time for the four horsemen and flooding that comes in their wake to overrun a marriage. And yet, divorce can so often be predicted by listening to a single conversation. How can this be? The answer is that by analyzing any disagreement a couple has, you get a good sense of the pattern they tend to follow. A crucial part of that pattern is whether their repair attempts succeed or fail.

Repair attempts are efforts the couple makes to de-escalate the tension during a discussion. The failure of these attempts is an accurate marker for an unhappy future. Read more about repair attempts here.

6. Bad Memories When Gottman interviews couples, he always asks them about the history of their relationship. In a happy marriage, couples tend to look back on their early days fondly. They remember how positive they felt early on, how excited they were when they met, and how much admiration they had for each other. When they talk about the tough times they’ve had, they glorify the struggles they’ve been through, drawing strength from the adversity they weathered together. 

Growth begins with awareness but it is realized in action.  Begin to be aware of how you handle conflict and if any of these six indicators are present take immediate action and get help.  Don’t become another statistic.

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