When you stand in front of your family and friends and promise to be together ‘until death do us part’, you think you mean it – but in the last decade, more than a million couples in the UK have gotten divorced.
Second and third marriages are more common than ever, with over 100,000 couples deciding to go their seperate ways every year. But how can you tell if your relationship is likely to go the distance?
According to staff at The Gottman Institute, who have spend years studying the factors that can make or break a couple, there are four clear predictors that a divorce could be on the cards.
One of the centre’s experts, Mike McNulty, Ph.D., LCSW, explains to Cosmopolitan how eye rolling and sneering during a debate can be the precursor to the end of a marriage.
‘All relationships involve ongoing, perpetual problems that will resurface,’ he says. ‘But it’s how you handle them — either with kindness or contempt — that can make or break you as a couple.’
‘Partners who are headed toward divorce have the following tendencies: They become angry and use what we call the ‘four horsemen of the apocalypse or negative patterns of communication, which are:’
This was found to be the top predictor of an imminent split. Researchers says that contempt, which includes sarcasm, name-calling, mimicking and eye-rolling, makes the other person feel worthless, increasing the potential for divorce.
We all nag about certain (small) things, but when criticism becomes an overbearing part of your relationship, it could be a sign that things aren’t working. They warn in particular to be careful of ‘corrosive criticism’, which is when you criticise your other half’s personality.
Mike says that if your partner is constantly making excuses or covering up harmful mistakes, it could be a sign that the end is nigh. It’s especially bad when you are ‘point scoring’, defending yourselves against each other’s criticism to the detriment of the other.
Stonewalling, or cutting off communication, is never a good sign, although you probably knew this already. This tends to occur when the previous three issues have become insurmountable, so the key is to address your problems before they get to this stage.
‘Some couples eventually stop trying to dialogue,’ he continues. ‘They find working on key conflicts to be too difficult or painful. They give up. They grow more distant, and live more like room-mates than spouses. In the end, emotional disengagement is truly the ultimate sign of a relationship headed towards divorce.’
To avoid these issues developing into something more serious, Mike suggests avoiding negative facial expressions and passive-aggressive comments, managing your expectations, and listening more deeply to your partner’s point of view. He also recommends questioning your own motives, rather than immediately attacking theirs. ‘Think, “Why does the behaviour bother me so much? Can I learn to live with it?”‘, he says. ‘In marriage, we have to learn to pick and chose our battles.’
If there’s an issue that you really feel you need to address, you should ‘complain gently without blaming the other person’, he adds. ‘These shifts in behaviour are fairly simple but really do make a difference’.