Brain and Body

These 4 Behaviors Are the Most Reliable Predictors of Divorce, According to Scientists

March 15, 2016 | Kelly Tatera

Man ripping up a marriage contract
Photo credit: Cordell and Cordell/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

They predicted which marriages would end in divorce with 93 percent accuracy!

Marriage is by no means a guaranteed route to happiness — research estimates that 40 to 50 percent of marriages in the United States end in divorce, and second marriages have an even higher risk, with a 60 percent risk of divorce.

Every relationship has its own problems, so those specific things your partner does that make you want to pull your hair out might not be an issue for other couples in the world.

However, a couple of psychologists, John Gottman of the University of Washington and Robert Levenson of the University of California at Berkeley, decided to research some of the trends among relationships that end in divorce, and they found four telltale signs that a married couple may be heading towards a not-so-happily ever after.

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The first predictor, called stonewalling, is a behavior that’s an unfortunate result of the rise of technology. If you’ve ever been in the midst of a heated argument and your significant other takes out his or her phone and starts texting, you’ve been “stonewalled,” and science says this is definitely not a good relationship sign. Avoiding a conversation or argument that needs to be smoothed out can be toxic, especially with the added sting of prioritizing a cell phone over a lover.

The next predictor, contempt, describes when you see your partner beneath you instead of an equal. Gottman told Business Insider that this behavior alone is “the kiss of death” for a relationship. The feeling of contempt is a mix of anger and disgust, often from feeling like you’re smarter or better than your partner instead of trying to understand things from his or her point of view.

Third comes criticism, which makes the list for obvious reasons. This behavior occurs when you turn something your partner did into an insult or argument about his or her character. For instance, if your husband forgot it was his turn to take out the trash this week, do you bash him for being irresponsible and inconsiderate when he gets home? Or do you take out the trash yourself and give him a gentle reminder to make sure he does it next time?

The researchers say that these personal insults and criticisms can build up feelings of resentment or contempt.

Finally, the last predictor of divorce is defensiveness. Are you always playing the victim in fights? Chances are you aren’t always right, so it’s important to own up to the things you do wrong instead of insisting that it wasn’t your fault. Gottman says that it can be tough to own up to your mistakes or your role in a tough situation, but refraining from getting defensive can keep an argument from escalating.

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These four behaviors certainly make a recipe for a relationship disaster, and when the psychologists factored in questions about relationship satisfaction and how many times the research subjects had thought about divorcing his or her partner, they were able to predict which marriages would end in divorce 93 percent of the time!

However, no relationship is perfect all the time, so don’t freak out if you occasionally notice these patterns in your relationship. If the negatives start to outweigh the positives, however, then there’s probably a good reason to be concerned.

Staying mindful of these four behaviors could make it or break it in a marriage.

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