Why 91% percent of divorces can be predicted

Why 91 percent of divorces can be predictedThis week I would like to introduce you to one of the experts whose work has influenced the Love2Last message.

Recognized in 2007 as one of the 10 most influential therapists of the past quarter century, John Gottman has spent over 30 years studying marriages, both successful ones and ones that have ended in divorce. He does this through practical and scientific study. Through this study he is able to predict with 91% accuracy whether couples will stay together or divorce. John says the key is in the way they talk to each other and argue. Usually within 5 minutes he has an idea which way a couples marriage is likely to go, but outside of his lab he will rarely let on. He reckons that’s why he doesn’t get invited to many dinner parties.

John has pinpointed 5 signs that feed into his predictions.

The first sign is a harsh start up. That is the way discussions begin. If one party starts with an accusatory negative remark or expresses contempt then this is considered a harsh start up and in 96% of the time he predicts how the discussion will end, which is normally pretty badly. Couples who are aware of this and are more considerate in the way they raise issues are much more likely to succeed.

The second sign is the negative action that John calls the 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse, these are criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling. Criticism is different from complaints, only in the way they are handled. Complaints focus on specific behaviours, whereas criticism attacks the character of the person.

Unfortunately, contempt often follows criticism; contempt also appears in forms such as sarcasm, name calling, eye rolling, put downs and mockery. None of which are going to repair a relationship that is beginning to falter.

This leads to the third horseman – defensiveness. This is usually the behaviour of the other partner who reacts to being criticised or to the contempt being directed at them. By the time the fourth horseman arrives, that is stonewalling, nothing good is going to come of it. Stonewalling is more common in men than women, but usually signals that the stonewalling partner wants out from the negativity that is occurring.

These horseman can be ever present and arrive over time, or they can appear all together during a particular argument and then disappear; however, if they appear more and more frequently then this is a sign that the relationship is an unhappy one.

The third sign that suggests a relationship is heading in the wrong direction, John calls “flooding”. Flooding means that the negativity that is present is so overwhelming that it leaves one partner shell shocked. This is usually a form of protection through emotional disengagement.

The fourth sign that is used to predict whether a relationship will survive is the body language that will often coincide with flooding. This is a physical sign and can come in the form of visual change as well as internal change such as a racing heart, secretion of adrenalin, an increase in blood pressure or other stresses on the body, which if not relieved will lead to physical ailments, often serious. People in this state are unlikely to think clearly or engage in effective problem solving and repair, which leads to either a fight or flee reaction.

The fifth sign that the relationship is in serious trouble is the number of failed attempts at repair. Typically, only one of the partners will be making these attempts and they are rejected by the other. When a happy couple have had arguments, which do happen often depending on their personalities, the successful repair attempt is what differentiates them from couples who are likely to end up as a statistic. Repair attempts can be in the form of a simple gesture (a kiss, a touch of the arm, a hug) or breaking the tension through laughter, an apology, a softening of the voice, or even just a caring smile.

Unfortunately, if a partner is flooded or is stonewalling these repair attempts will be rejected making a situation go from bad to worse.

The sixth and last sign is bad memories. If either couple cannot recall good memories from their past, or they view what previously happened through negative eyes then this is a sign they are rewriting the past based on how they feel in the present. Their memories become distorted which will definitely have an effect on their future together.

Now that I have probably depressed or worried you I want to balance this. You may all have experienced some of what I have already described during your relationship, but it doesn’t mean there is an inevitable outcome. As I said earlier, these are just signs of unhappy couples. Happy couples can recognise what is happening and do something about it. Awareness is the first and most important step.

So how can you make sure you are not going to be a statistic? Well, let’s look at each of the Six Predictors:

Sign 1 A harsh start up: if you start with harsh words and you realise this, don’t carry on; stop – soften your voice – apologise (sign of a caring person) and start the discussion again how you meant it to occur to get the outcome you wanted.

Sign 2 The Four Horsemen: remember there is a big difference between a complaint and criticism, use your words carefully and these horsemen will stay in their stables.

Sign 3 Flooding: If you or your partner feel flooded then negativity is present. The one being flooded needs to reach out to the partner doing the flooding. The partner doing the flooding needs to learn the signs of protection being displayed whether this is silence, turning away physically, changing the subject or just the look of shell shock.

Sign 4 Body language: If couples genuinely care for each other then reaching this stage should be the “wake up call” that something in their relationship needs serious attention. The partner experiencing health related symptoms owes it to themselves to speak up and involve their partner and share the concerns and the resolutions together. The other partner needs to be aware of changes in their partner’s body language and be strong enough to raise it and not let it be brushed aside. Care and comparison will fix things very quickly, ignorance or deliberate avoidance will lead to nothing positive.

Sign 5 Failed repair attempts: This is where couples need to really look at their priorities and the inevitable outcomes from rejecting repair attempts. Is it better to be right, or loved? What is more important your pride or the impact on your family, finances, health, business etc.? How does winning serves everyone and everything you hold dear?

Sign 6 Bad memories: Help each other to have good memories, get out the photos, talk about events that you shared from the past, but remember to keep the horsemen in their stalls. Particularly, if one partner gets a detail wrong, if you feel the need to correct them it is “how” you correct them, rather than the detail itself that is more important. Remember, people remember feelings not the words that were said.

If you want to find out more about John Gottman’s work, or are interested in learning more about the Gottman theory, see www.gottman.com. He has also written several very insightful and helpful books. The solutions to the six predictors is my interpretation from reading John’s work and combining it with the teaching of others, coupled with a lot of practical application by both myself and couples who I work with, so I hope you find this helpful.


Author and experienced relationship coach, Gillian Andale is the owner of Love2Last, a coaching and resource centre dedicated to couples who have found love again, want a new beginning and aim to strengthen and grow their relationship as well as need help in blended family situations.  Visit www.love2last.co to browse and see the wealth of information available.


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