The Science Behind Predicting Marital Success in 15 Minutes


Gottman developed multiple models, scales and formulas to predict marital stability and divorce in couples. Gottman found that the four negative behaviors that most predict divorce are criticism of partners’ personality, contempt (from a position of superiority), defensiveness, and stonewalling, or emotional withdrawal from interaction.

In multiple analyses, Gottman has shown a plethora of relations and effects in marriage and divorce:

  • The dynamic to cause divorce in the short term is different from that causing divorce later. Early divorce is characterized by the “four horsemen” of bad fighting, whereas later divorce is characterized by lower positive affect in earlier stages of the relationship.
  • Anger is not at all bad for relationships. Happy couples are as frequently angry as unhappy couples. It seems that how people react to anger and how destructive they get is the crucial factor rather than the frequency of anger or fights.
  • 69% of happy couples still have the very same unresolved conflicts after 10 years, yet remain happy because they do not get gridlocked in the conflict.

Not everybody is quite as convinced. Laurie Abraham in Happy Wives Club: One Woman’s Worldwide Search for the Secrets of a Great Marriage notes: “So what does it mean to predict divorce? He knew the marital status of his subjects at six years, and he fed that information into a computer along with the communication patterns turned up on the videos.”

In other words, it’s not so much of a predictor as a correlation. Which isn’t to say it’s not a useful model, but there’s a good argument to be had that the next step is, in fact, to turn around and test the method’s value as a predictor – since, after all, that’s what people both want and are afraid of.

Photo via Third Wave Behavioral.
Via Wikipedia.

This entry was posted in Culture, Science by Heretic. Bookmark the permalink.

About Heretic

I design video games for a living, write fiction, political theory and poetry for personal amusement, and train regularly in Western European 16th century swordwork. On frequent occasion I have been known to hunt for and explore abandoned graveyards, train tunnels and other interesting places wherever I may find them, but there is absolutely no truth to the rumor that I am preparing to set off a zombie apocalypse. Nothing that will stand up in court, at least. I use paranthesis with distressing frequency, have a deep passion for history, anthropology and sociological theory, and really, really, really hate mayonnaise. But I wash my hands after the writing. Promise.

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