Upon reading the news that certain relationship behaviors are proven predictors of divorce, we did a little informal poll among friends to see how many we were collectively guilty of. Welp, let’s just say if science is right, we should all start polishing our Bumble profiles. Here, three of the surest ways to torpedo a marriage, plus expert advice on how to undo the damage.
3 Predictors of Divorce—and How to Avoid Them, According to an Expert
1. Showing Contempt For Your Partner
The problem: According to psychologists, contempt, meanness, sarcasm, using mocking body language and/or hostile humor is the number one predictor of a split (yes, even if your sarcastic comments are hilarious…). “In whatever form,” writes pioneering relationship researcher Dr. John Gottman, “contempt is poisonous to a relationship because it conveys disgust. It’s virtually impossible to resolve a problem when your partner is getting the message that you’re disgusted with him or her.” Adding insult to injury (or, rather, the other way around), contemptuous couples are more likely to get sick with colds and flu than other people. Unhealthy much?
The fix: Gottman advises “building a culture of fondness and admiration.” Discuss your happiest memories, focusing on how and why you got together. Reveal your first impressions of each other, revisit the highlight reel of your pre-marriage years, make a rez at the spot where he proposed. Dust off the wedding album, frame the sonogram, watch a video of your first kid’s first steps. The path to a happier future may just be down memory lane.
2. Complaining About Your S.o.
The problem: Let’s be real. Smack-talking your S.O. to your friends can feel as therapeutic as, well, therapy. “If I have to pick up his socks—which he places next to but not actually in the hamper—one more time…” But with every rant, you’re eroding your own foundation. Writes a relationship coach colleague of Gottman’s: “The future success of your relationship is determined by the way in which you tell the ‘Story of Us.’” Another cites research that shows, “When couples are in the positive perspective, they give their partner the benefit of the doubt. On the flip side, when they are in the negative perspective, partners are hypersensitive and take [even neutral] things much more personally. Perception becomes reality.”
The fix: Talk to each other instead of about each other. If something is off between you two, there’s one—and probably only one—person who needs to hear about it. Writes relationship counselor Nick Notas: “I don’t care if you’re worried they’ll get sad or defensive. I don’t care if it’s really scary and challenges your ego. I don’t care if you have to endure tough conversations. You need to fight for healthy communication from both sides. There’s no excuse to handle your relationship any other way…If you care about your loved one, please talk to them instead.”
3. The Silent Treatment
The problem: For those who loathe confrontation, phubbing or fleeing may seem easier than fighting. But, it turns out, shutting down during an argument can be just as damaging as shouting during one. It’s called “stonewalling”—and it’s a proven marriage killer. Per research cited in the Journal of Marriage and Family, “Withdrawal may lead to the deterioration of marriages over the long term perhaps because problems are left unresolved and there is increased distance and alienation.” For some, the silent treatment has been weaponized. One therapist quoted in the Chicago Tribune even calls it “a deadly emotional assassination.” You may not be able to control your partner’s parenting style, for example, but you can certainly control your plan not to speak to him for three straight days. Nothing infuriates quite like it.
The fix: Talk to yourself first. That same therapist advises blocking “the slide into silence” by “telling yourself that although it feels like it will help, your rational side knows it will likely do more harm than good.” Then, tell your partner you need a break to regroup. Taking time to cool off during conflict doesn’t count as stonewalling—as long as you come back calmer to work things out.