Some of the findings, while they may seem obvious, run counter to the way many marital counselors work, and thus, could force counselors to rethink their whole approach to couple’s therapy.
John Gottman, a psychology professor at the University of Washington and a leading divorce-prediction researcher (www.gottman.com), has videotaped thousands of couples and codes positive and negative facial expressions, body language and comments. He and his colleagues have calculated that successful marriages have at least a five-to-one ratio of positive to negative interactions. When the ratio drops, the marriage becomes high risk for divorce.
While it is not logistically possible in real life to tally the positive and negative displays, therapists say it’s important to ramp up the positives after a negative occurs so the ratio doesn’t dip to dangerous levels. The strongest predictors of divorce are four negative qualities: contempt, criticism, defensiveness and stonewalling. And couples should be aware of subtle negative facial expressions.
Half of all marriages end in the first seven years but a study in Family Process claims that another risky time for divorce is midlife. The study followed 79 Bloomington, Ind., couples that had been married for an average of five years. Four years after the research started, 9% had divorced and by the end of the 14-year study, 22 couples, or 28% had divorced.
The study showed that the couples that divorced earlier were volatile and negative but the couples that divorced later had suppressive emotions. Those are the type of couples that sit in a restaurant and don’t talk. And they’re not aware they are at high risk for divorce because the early years were so tolerable.
It has been shown that “active listening,” a traditional counseling method, doesn’t work because the spouse would just repeat the complaint and say, “I hear what you’re saying.” Happily married couples don’t respond that way. They take a gentler approach to starting a conversation and if an argument escalates, they know how to end it and repair the damage.
Traditional counseling will also have a couple give up their idealized view of relationships and romance but this has been shown to be the contrary: People with the highest expectations for marriage have the highest quality marriages.
Another predictor of divorce has to do with the influence the wife has on the decision making process. In marriages at high risk for divorce, the wife has little to no influence over her husband.
Age can be another risk factor. There is a divorce risk for women who marry younger men but men can marry younger women without any risk factor.
Another huge factor has to do with having children. Studies show that marital satisfaction drops by 70% in the first few years of having a child but later helps the couple to stay married.
And finally, some marital arguments can’t be solved. One study interviewed a couple and came back four years later to find that the couple was still arguing about the same problems in exactly the same way. This has led to what is called “acceptance” therapy which encourages couples to accept the minor weaknesses of their partners instead of trying to change them.
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Source: Can Eye-Rolling Ruin a Marriage? Researches Study Divorce Risk, By Tara Parker-Pope, The Wall Street Journal