Unfortunately, research in this area remains inadequate — that is, with the exception of an ongoing study conducted over the past 25 years at the University of Washington.
With a phenomenal 94 percent accuracy rate, these researchers can watch how married couples’ relate to one another and predict whether or not they will remain married or eventually divorce.
They monitor the couples physical responses to each other (such as changes in blood pressure and perspiration while they interact), how they share emotions with one another, and how they work together on assigned projects.
What they have discovered is that commonly held expectations as to why couples divorce do not hold true.
For instance, anger is not a predictor for divorce. Neither is complaining. Although stressful, anger and complaining serve to vent emotions.
There are, according to the researchers, four significant predictors for divorce.
1. Criticism: Usually a projection of one’s own inadequacies, the critic criticizes his mate under the pretense of helping her to become a better person. But the outcome of criticism is just the opposite. Criticism, regardless of whether it is viewed as constructive or destructive, positive or negative, is unproductive.
The one criticized remains in a subservient position by constantly being reminded that whatever she does will never be good enough.
Also, the critic tends to remain entrenched in his role as a critic and therefore, doesn’t look within himself to face his own inadequacies and thus never grows emotionally. Understandably, criticism separates and can lead to divorce.
2. Contempt: Contempt ought to be outlawed in relationships. This act of despising another demonstrates almost a total lack of respect. Contempt is communicated with verbal statements that often convey just the opposite of what is spoken. “That’s really brilliant.” Or, the statements may be direct assaults. “You’re pathetic. You’re worthless.” Body language can also effectively communicate contempt. Rolling the eyes or giving that expression that communicates, “Oh brother, this person will never get it.” Regardless of how contempt is expressed, the end result is that the receiver feels about an inch tall. Such belittling understandably can separate and lead to divorce.
3. Defensiveness: The defensive person blocks the way to the resolution of any problem. Battles are fought and re-fought over a number of peripheral issues, but the core issues are never addressed.
Since the defensive person is often unaware of what she is doing, she finds it difficult to break this pattern.
Because defensiveness does not allow problems to be fully resolved, it effectively serves also to block intimacy. This block to intimacy may push the partner to begin looking for intimacy elsewhere, which, in turn, may be the beginning of the divorce process.
5. Withdrawal: The most significant predictor of divorce is withdrawal. This is understandable as the refusal to face and discuss one’s relationship creates an impasse for dealing with any relationship problems since all relationships demand two people working together.
When one of the two refuses to face and deal with the relationship, the other person is powerless to do anything about this. Continued withdrawal will eventually end a relationship and often results in divorce.
Take a major step in avoiding the pain and heartbreak of divorce by paying careful attention to each of these predictors — criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and withdrawal.