Predictors of Marital Success / Divorce

Interesting.  An article citing the founder of the “Love Lab” mentioned in Blink, who takes videos of couples discussing a point of small contention (like having a dog), and analyzes and scores sub-second frames for subtle signs of contempt, condescension, body language, etc.  Apparently he can predict with ~90% accuracy whether or not a couple will be together in 10 years based on 15 minutes of video.

How’s your marriage?

According to Dr. John Gottman, professor emeritus of psychology at the University of Washington and the founder of theGottman Relationship Institute, there are several things to consider when gauging the health of your marriage.

Here they are:

1. High Levels of Friendship, Respect, Affection, and Humor

This is defined as liking each other, being each other’s best friend, doing things together; showing interest in and respect for the other’s thoughts and feelings, avoiding put-downs, supporting each other’s goals and aspirations, feeling affection for each other, having fun and laughter together, being Number One in each other’s eyes.

2. A Ratio of 5:1 or Better of Positive to Negative Interactions

This means that your relationship averages at least five pleasant, friendly, or loving experiences or periods of time for every hostile word, angry argument, or time spent feeling hurt or resentful. And 5:1 is the minimum!

3. Successful “Bids for Attention”

e.g., The wife says, “Hey, listen to this!” She is trying to get her husband’s attention for a conversation. If the husband keeps on reading the paper, ignoring her, he’s turning away her bid for attention. If he says “Huh?” and lifts his eyes off the Sports Page for a second or two, he’s turning toward her—a good sign. And if he actually listens to whatever she wanted to say, that a real connection! In successful marriages, partners turn toward each other 86% of the time (vs. divorcing couples who on average turn toward each other 33% of the time, or less).

4. Soft Starts of Disagreements

In successful marriages, disagreements are started softly, without critical, contemptuous remarks about the other person (not doing so is Gottman’s first Divorce Predictor).

5. Husband Accepts Influence from Wife

In successful marriages, husbands accept influence from their wives. (e.g., If a wife says she’s afraid her husband is driving too fast for the rainy road conditions, and he says, “No way I’m slowing down, I know what I’m doing!”—this is a shaky marriage.) There must be give and take in a relationship—giving and accepting influence, and research shows that women are well accustomed to accepting influence from men. So it’s crucial that men learn to do the same!

6. Partners are Aware of and Respect the Other’s Needs, Likes, Dislikes, and Their Inner Life

They ask questions to find out; they listen; they care!



1.  Harsh Start of Arguments

The partner who starts the argument is aggressive or hostile, is insulting, attacks his partner’s character, uses sarcasm, shows contempt or disgust—all of which lead to escalation or withdrawal.

2.  Criticism

Attacking character or traits, instead of addressing the problem specifically.

3.  Contempt

Disgust, disrespect, condescension, sarcasm, eye-rolling.

4.  Defensiveness

Trying to prove I’m not the problem—you’re the problem; justifying your behavior.

5.  Flooding

Gottman uses this term to describe the dramatic physiological changes (adrenaline pumping, increases in heart rate, blood pressure, respiration) that precede stonewalling by a partner. Flooding and stonewalling start to occur later in marriage, after years of Harsh Starts, Criticism, Contempt, and Defensiveness.

6.  Stonewalling

Withdrawing, silence, no eye contact, no response, blank facial expression, leaving, being physically or emotionally unreachable. Stonewalling’s immediate cause is Flooding. Stonewalling appears to be an attempt to reduce Flooding’s heavy bodily stress. For prehistoric, hunter-gatherer reasons, Gottman speculates, men are more susceptible to Flooding than women, so men are much more likely to Stonewall. And, as women are 80% more likely to bring up sticky marital issues than men, an important implication of this finding is that women, particularly, need to avoid Harsh Starts in order not to set up the dynamics that lead to Flooding and Stonewalling.

7.  Failed Repair Attempts

These are situations where attempts by one partner to repair damage and keep negativity from escalating out of control are ignored or otherwise meet with failure. Partner B doesn’t respond positively to Partner A’s attempts at apology, humor, or any other means of easing tensions.

Gottman finds that these seven factors both individually and cumulatively predict divorce. The pattern tends to begin with Harsh Starts, and this sets off a cascade of responses that leads over time to the various other Divorce Predictors.



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