Is Your Marriage Headed For Divorce?

6 predictors of divorce

predictors of divorce. photo credit: Team Lane via photopin cc

The divorce rate is not encouraging, and many people are suffering from relationship distress. Perhaps you are wondering if your marriage is headed for divorce. Based on years of research from psychologist Dr. John Gottman, there are certain predictors of divorce to look out for in your marriage. In fact, Gottman found that he can predict whether couples are bound for divorce with between 88 and 94 percent accuracy within three minutes of hearing them argue.

What would he think of your marriage? Here are some of his predictors of divorce:

1.) A harsh start-up

Gottman has found that ninety-six percent of the time, the way a conversation begins between partners is how it tends to end. Therefore, it makes sense to start conversations calmly, or with a "softened" start-up, as opposed to being angry, hostile or accusative with your partner right off the bat. If you start the conversation with a harsh tone, it will likely end that way, and your conflict will probably remain unresolved.

2.) The presence of The Four Horsemen of The Apocalypse

These four types of negative interactions that couples face are so dangerous that Gottman has named them The Four Horsemen of The Apocalypse: 

  • Criticism is the first of these four horsemen. Gottman reminds couples to complain about a problem, as opposed to making a personal attack. If criticism goes unchecked, it can lead to the second horseman, contempt.
  • Contempt is dangerous as it typically communicates a sense of disgust. Contempt can be seen in eye-rolling, sarcasm, cynicism and mockery, and Gottman actually notes that contempt is the most damaging of these negative interactions.
  • Defensiveness is the third horseman and naturally develops in an environment of criticism and contempt. Defensiveness may feel protective to some extent, but in reality, it places the blame on the other and the problematic cycle of interaction continues to escalate.

3.) Flooding

Another predictor of divorce is called "flooding." Flooding is basically when a partner is left feeling so overwhelmed, or "shell-shocked," as Gottman writes, that they are left frozen or paralyzed. Flooding can often lead to the kind of disengagement that stonewalling provides, and ultimately it is dangerous for one's relationship.

4.) Heightened and maintained physiological arousal

You know those fights that make your blood boil? This may be because you are having an intense physiological response to your partner. Your heart may be racing, you may be sweating bullets, and you are basically in "fight or flight" mode. When this heightened physiological state is maintained, it becomes another predictor of divorce.

When people become physiologically activated in this way, their brains become foggy, thinking becomes rigid and it is close to impossible to come to a resolution about anything. Clearly when this state is maintained over time, it is very difficult for partners to get on the same page and see eye to eye about anything.

5.) Failed repair attempts

Gottman notes that one of the qualities about happily married partners is that they are able to reconnect after a fight, in other words, repair. When one partner tries to reconnect, whether from an apology, a smile, flowers, or any other action, it is called a repair attempt. Failed repair attempts occur when they are met with dismissal or rejection by the other partner. When repair attempts consistently fail in relationships, this becomes yet another predictor of divorce.

6.) Negative memories

Memories are not always accurate, and current situations can often warp people's accounts of what actually happened. Couples in a very negative place may have difficulty remembering anything positive about their relationships, even from the early days when all may have been well. If the only tales of the past that a couple can come up with are bad memories, this is clearly not a good sign.

All relationships may have any number of these predictors spring up from time to time, but when they are present more often than not, they may be headed for divorce. If this is the case for you, it makes sense to get relationship help fast.


Carrere, S., Buehlman, K.T., Gottman, J.M., Coan, J.A., and Ruckstuhl, L. (2000). Predicting marital stability and divorce in newlywed couples. Journal of Family Psychology, 14(1): 42-58.

Gottman, J. & Silver, N. (1999) The seven principles for making a marriage work. Three Rivers Press: New York.

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