image of broken heart to symbolize the question Can We Predict Divorce

Have you ever met a couple that made you wonder how they even stay together? Similarly, have you ever met a couple that seemed like they’d be together for eternity until their relationship came to a seemingly abrupt halt? Chances are, you’ve answered “yes” to both questions, which might lead us to answer “no” to the question, “Can we predict divorce?”

Of course, we could never be 100% correct in our predictions – relationships are as individual as the couples themselves, and it’s impossible to say with certainty where a relationship is headed. However, as Dr. John Gottman points out in his book, “What Predicts Divorce,” it is possible to predict whether a couple is more likely to get divorced, based on certain problematic communication types, including:

Contempt – An expression of disrespect toward a person, in which the target of contempt is made to feel despised and worthless. This includes making contemptuous statements, eye-rolling, name-calling, mimicking, ridiculing, etc.

Criticism – An attack on someone’s character. Arguments that start with, “You always…” or, “You never…” are often indicative of an expression of criticism.

Defensiveness – Using deflection, blame, justification, and excuses are expressions of defensiveness, and are ofte employed to counter the shame experienced when one is being criticized. 

Stonewalling – The act of withdrawal from interaction with another person. Stonewalling includes giving the cold-shoulder, ignoring, avoiding, acting “too busy” to talk, or even just zoning out so as not to participate in the interaction.

The Biggest Predictor of Divorce

From the descriptions above, can you guess which communication type is most predictive of an increased likelihood of divorce? According to Gottman’s studies, if you guessed contempt, you are correct!

While all 4 communication types are damaging to a relationship, contempt is the number one indicator of an increased chance of divorce. Going above criticism, defensiveness, and stonewalling, contempt is particularly damaging because it assumes moral superiority over another person. Combined with long-held negative thoughts about the other person, a stance of moral superiority actively stifles any chances to grow as a couple.

If you’re noticing that one or more of these communication types are showing up in your relationship, it might be time to get curious about how the communication is impacting the bond between you and your partner. For many people, just being aware that their communication style is a hindrance to healthy connection, could be impetus for change. For others, it may take a little more digging and uncovering and un-doing old relationship patterns to enact change.

As always, if you’d like some guidance at this stage of your journey, our relationship coaches can help. Please don’t hesitate to reach out – you don’t have to do this alone.