real life

3 tests to predict if you'll get divorced.

Once polar opposites, love and science have finally been united in these three tests. So what do they say about your relationship?

Scientist John Gottman has been analysing relationships and marital stability for more than two decades — and as a result, he can listen to a couple interacting for just five minutes and determine whether they’ll divorce with 91 percent accuracy (or so he claims).

Dr Gottman’s studies are so precise that he can even determine, on average, how many years a couple will last after marriage.

The combination of love and science — polar opposites for so long — has finally happened. So what does it mean for your relationship?

Curious to see how long your marriage will last? Here are three factors that supposedly lead to a divorce.

1. Are you noticing these behaviours?

Your relationship may be in trouble if you’ve noticed a combination of the following:

1. Criticism. Complaining with blaming, or issuing harsh verbal attacks.

2. Defensiveness. Where you’re likely to counter-attack or act like a victim to make your partner feel bad.

3. Contempt. Dr Gottman believes this is the best predictor of the likelihood of divorce, because it displays disgust. Treating your partner with disrespect, mocking them with sarcasm or rolling your eyes are forms of contempt.

Gottman concluded that couples displaying combinations of these four behaviours would divorce 5.6 years after marriage.

4. Stonewalling. This is measured by the absence of ‘listener cues’ — things like eye contact, open body, nodding head, moving facial muscles, brief vocalisations such as ‘uh-huh’, ‘wow’, ‘yeah’, ‘oh’).

Dr Gottman calls these four destructive behaviors “the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” — because when they’re present, the end is never far away.

Couples displaying combinations of the four Horsemen tend to divorce an average of 5.6 years after marriage. So if they’re present in your partnership? Watch out, you might not even make it to the next Olympics.

2. Are you sad, angry, detached and disengaged?

Even if the Four Horsemen are nowhere in sight — and indeed, even if there’s no hostility present in your relationship at all–  you could be in trouble if you’re sad, angry, detached and disengaged. Couples with no positive emotions in their relationship, who don’t pay attention to each other’s expression of painful emotion, also tend to divorce.


Dr Gottman says that emotional withdrawal and anger predict later divorces, though – with couples in this group tending to split an average of 16.2 years after the wedding.

Sad? Angry? Detached? Disengaged? That’s not good news for your relationship.

 3. How many ‘bids’ do you respond to?

Dr Gottman also explains how partners’ reactions to each other in simple everyday situations can illustrate the strength of a marriage.

The theory was based on a study of 130 couples in a lab at the University of Washington, which had been made up to look like a bed and breakfast. It was here, while watching the couples interact, that Dr Gottman discovered specific causes of relationships’ success or failure based on partners’ abilities to meet one another’s emotional needs.

As an article in The Atlantic explains, partners make requests for connection throughout the day, which Dr Gottman calls “bids.” For example, the husband, may notice a particularly rare butterfly and say to his wife, ‘Look at that butterfly outside!’ If the wife ‘turns toward’ her husband — by looking at it and acknowledging its beauty, for example —  she is responding by showing interest and supporting the bid. If the wife fails to respond — or responds minimally, or in a hostile way, saying something like, ‘stop interrupting me’ — she is said to be ‘turning away from’ the bid.

Six years after this experiment, Dr Gottman found that couples who had divorced by then had ‘turn-towards bids’ 33 percent of the time. The couples who were still together, on the other hand had ‘turn-towards bids’ 87 percent of the time.

In short, the couples who stayed together were responding to their partners’ bids for connection — and therefore meeting their partner’s emotional needs — a lot more of the time.

Gottman’s list can categorically break down your marriage into factors that will determine whether you will grow old and grey together – or whether you’ll be packing your bags.

So there we have it. A scientific checklist that can categorically determine whether you will grow old and grey together… or not.

How did you score?

John Gottman is the author of  The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, What Makes Love Work, What Predicts Divorce plus many more novels around relationship analysis.

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