What are 4 Major Predictors of Divorce?

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by Chris Torrone

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10.26.2022

In our recent article 6 Signs You May Be Headed for Divorce, we discussed some behavioral markers that often signal major underlying relationship problems for married couples and sometimes push that divorce rate even higher.

Today, we want to look at 4 predictors of divorce backed up by years of clinical research performed by two respected psychologists and relationship experts, Drs. John Gottman and Julie Gottman. They’ve been able to compile and analyze substantial data to offer us and their clients a view into the biggest predictors that increase our risk for divorce, and devise methods for building a healthy relationship by creating effective communication, overcoming negative behaviors, and developing greater intimacy in marriage. 

By using this information, and working with your family therapist, you’ll be able to shift your defensive responses, change negative communication patterns, avoid common pitfalls, and help each other experience greater marital satisfaction. Let’s look at these primary indicators of divorce right now.

couple dealing with 4 predictors of divorce

The Trouble

It’s important to remember that every relationship is unique and every couple experiences a range of difficulties and trials during the course of their marriage. However, if more than one of these exists in your marriage, it’s often a good time to seek professional help. 

1. Criticism 

Some criticism is normal in a marriage, especially for those that have been together for years. However, a constantly critical attitude and mean-spirited responses and behaviors means there are deeper problems beneath the surface.

This kind of aggressive and pervasive critique often shows up with constant behavioral comments, things like “You never…,” You always do this,” “Why are you so…?,” “If only you were more like…,” “You never do anything right.” Or, insert any number of other horrible responses. We may argue simply to win, to prove our spouse wrong, to avoid having to access some deeper level of truth or solve a problem together.

These caustic statements infuse a permanence or finality to everything. They make us feel hopeless and unable to change certain things and unworthy or useless as individuals. If we truly love our spouse, no matter how angry they sometimes make us, we shouldn’t desire to make them feel this way.

What’s recommended, if you have a valid complaint, is to comment calmly and respectfully on a certain choice or behavior, without attacking your spouse’s personality. For instance, “When you make this choice, I feel this way…” This keeps the conversation moving toward clarity, vulnerability, and personal responsibility, instead of blame and shame. 

2. Contempt

Contemptuous behavior is one of the worst of the bunch and, at its extreme, borders on a kind of emotional abuse which can easily kill any intimate relationship. Contempt is an attitude of superiority, to believe you are better than or above your partner. It is a specific devaluing of their worth as a human being. 

Contempt manifests in several behaviors, including eye-rolling, huffing, dismissive acts like turning away, walking out of the room, waving your hand in a disrespectful manner, insensitive joking, sneering, mean sarcasm, disgust, talking negatively about your spouse behind their back, and showing hostility toward them each day. 

This is often one of the most difficult attitudes to overcome, since contemptuous partners find it incredibly challenging to give up their attitude of superiority and self-righteousness. It gives us the feeling of power and control to treat others this way and is usually a mask for our own vulnerabilities and insecurities. 

It’s important to focus on building a bond that champions mutual respect, kindness, affirmations, good listening, respectful gestures, positive compliments, encouragement, and patience.

couple dealing with predictors of divorce

3. Defensiveness 

Defensiveness rears its head for several reasons, but usually as a response to a perceived attack or threat. It is often also a way to hide from taking responsibility for our own actions or to turn the attention away from ourselves when we know we’ve done something wrong. 

It also sometimes involves something called cross-complaining. This is when you attempt to match your partner’s complaints by throwing a few, or several, back at them. This destroys any potential for intimacy, spurs on marital dissatisfaction, and adds to the likelihood of extramarital affairs. 

Instead, look first at your own life and choices. Develop yourself inwardly and take complete responsibility for your own actions. When conversations get tough, stay with it. Don’t run or throw hurtful things at your partner. Affirm their concerns while respecting yourself. Honor one another by remaining open, vulnerable, respectful, and encouraging. And definitely work with your therapist to overcome these tendencies.

4. Stonewalling

Stonewalling is much like it sounds, a way of putting up a barrier between you and your spouse, effectively shutting them out so you can self-protect or avoid conflict. Stonewalling can take many forms. It may be direct, like suddenly leaving the room or turning away from your partner. It also means responding to your spouse in grunts and quick, dismissive words, or simply changing the subject. 

It is often used to protect oneself. We sometimes feel cornered, emotionally and psychologically overwhelmed, or impatient and not wanting to engage. Unfortunately, these behaviors come across to your partner as disapproval, dislike, coldness, distancing, apathy, a lack of respect, and superiority. 

couple working past the 4 predictors of divorce

In Closing

Instead of injuring each other further, it’s important we choose empathy, respect, genuine interest, and dignity. We should seek to de-escalate conflict that has gotten out of hand. Conflict is normal and necessary. But each of us has the choice to navigate these struggles with an open mind and heart, a mindset of kindness and generosity, and a desire to solve problems and build intimacy. 

Be sure to partner with a trusted counselor, read quality relationship books, blogs, and periodicals, surround yourself with supportive friends and family, and always approach one another with patience and a desire to learn and grow. 

Torrone Law helps individuals, and families navigate divorce, custody, and adoptions successfully. We empower you with sound advice, a clear plan, and peace of mind. Connect with us today to learn more or to get started. 

To learn more about divorce and major predictors, see our frequently asked questions below. 

FAQ

What are the four major predictors of divorce?

There are many more signals that often hint at divorce. Yet, these four have been cited as top predictors of divorce according to thorough research. 

  • Criticism
  • Contempt
  • Defensiveness
  • Stonewalling

What are some of the other signs of divorce?

  • These include:
  • Blame
  • Consistently negative interactions
  • Avoidance
  • Lack of effort
  • Infidelity
  • and more

What can we do to improve our struggling marriage?

Link up with an experienced marriage counselor and be consistent on the work they give you each week. Consciously choose respect, affirmation, good listening, respectful actions and reactions, and calm, honest discussion. 

Check out sources like relationship blogs, books, and periodicals like the Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, and the Journal of Family Psychology. 

Last, reach out for support from friends and family who want your best and the best for your spouse. Connect with older mentors with long-term successful marriages who desire to bring their wisdom to younger couples. 

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