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Can your chances of divorce be predicted?


I was interested to read some research recently whereby a team of researchers were able to predict out of a sample of 80 married couples which couples would still be married 14 years later.

As a Solicitor who has been specialising in Matrimonial Law for probably longer than I care to remember, I have often wondered what makes some marriages work and what makes some fail. Every excited bride and groom walk down the aisle making their vows to love each other “til death do us part”, but latest research shows around 43% of all marriages end in divorce. I was therefore incredibly interested to read some research whereby a team of researchers were able to predict out of a sample of 80 married couples which couples would still be married 14 years later – the accuracy was 93%.

The research was led by John Gottman whose website reveals a very distinguished psychologist who has written over 190 articles and had 40 books published. He interviewed around 80 married couples throughout the mid-West of America, coded the videos and came up with four behaviours that could be used to predict why couples got divorced and which of those couples they interviewed were likely to be together after 14 years.

As a very happily married divorce lawyer, I read those four behaviours with interest. The behaviours are:

1. Contempt

The research revealed that the couples who did go on to divorce did express over twice as much contempt during arguments as those that were still together. They define contempt as a mixture of anger and disgust. In the UK the thesaurus describes contempt as “hatred”, “condescension”, “scorn”. I frequently hear of couples that argue and the type of comments that they make to each other during these arguments and appreciate that some of these do show contempt.

2. Criticism

The second behaviour is criticism, not merely a bit of a complaint at behaviours that we are perhaps all guilty of but the more personal type of criticism which is in fact an attack on the person.

3. Defensiveness

This is more than simply during an argument fighting our own corner, it is more an out and out behaviour of blaming absolutely everything on the other party. It is taking absolutely no responsibility at all for our behaviours, but believing the other person is 100%, whole heartedly responsible for absolutely everything that goes wrong in the relationship.

4. Stone Walling

Whilst the dictionary definition of this is along the lines of refusing to co-operate, in this situation it means simply not even getting involved in the conversation – staring at the TV… texting… indeed finding anything other than listening to the person is a classic example.

The key message that comes across in the research is that just because we/our partner may behave in one, some or all of these ways, it does not necessarily mean that the relationship will end in divorce.

The research does in fact suggest that each of the four behaviours, does have a solution to the way to behave so, an example given, in relation to the defensiveness behaviour, rather than being defensive, perhaps acknowledge the fact that you play some part in the conflict. Instead of stone walling, once you have focused on what they call “psychological self-soothing”, have the conversation, rather than ignoring it completely.

I have always found the psychology of our behaviour quite fascinating, and was at one stage torn between pursuing a career in psychology or a career in law, this research has blown me away. I hear, all too often, how people behave with their partners during arguments, conversations etc. and can think of quite a few examples (via my clients, rather than my personal situation!) when these very behaviours come out.

Justine is a partner and head of the Family team at Clarion Solicitors and can be contacted on 0113 336 3323 and email justine.osmotherley@clarionsolicitors.com

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