in: Dating & Relationships

5 Key Research-Driven Predictors of Divorce

Have the “Four Horsemen” disrupted your martial bliss? If you have concerns about where your relationship’s headed, check out these key predictors of divorce.

Have you ever been in the middle of a heated fight with your spouse, only to realize your arms are crossed, your teeth are gritted, and you’re staring at the wall (a full 180 degrees away from your significant other)?

If the answer is yes, and if you find this happening often, you might be in a state of marriage crisis.

This behavior demonstrates a sense of contempt for your spouse and is just one of the “4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse” according to Dr. John Gottman, founder of the Gottman method and a leading expert in the field of marital distress.

In fact, these “4 Horsemen” are among the most well-recognized and accepted signs that all is not well with a married couple. They also top our list of the five key predictors of divorce. What are the rest? Keep reading to find out.

1. “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse”

After 40 years of close observation of married couples across all categories and life stages, Gottman identified the presence of a combination of key factors that resulted in divorce.

The first is criticism, which occurs when one partner brings an issue to the other in a harsh fashion, or with a judgmental or critical tone. Another horsemen is defensiveness. While it can initially seem like a good way to protect yourself, defensiveness is a way to blame your partner and refuse to hear them out.

As previously mentioned, the third horsemen is contempt. Just as it sounds, contempt is present when things get particularly nasty and the volume gets turned up in an argument. One or both partners get belligerent, critical, and sarcastic. They might roll their eyes or display other dismissive body language.

Finally, the fourth horsemen is stonewalling, which happens when one partner shuts down and stops listening or responding to the other. When this behavior is in action, there’s no reaction and the other partner can become frustrated.

These four behaviors are grouped together because they often occur simultaneously and prevent either partner from being objective because their emotions and reactions reach an escalated state.

2. The Harsh Start-Up

When couples argue, the first few minutes of the conversation often determines if it will go well or poorly. About 96 percent of the time, if one spouse initiates a dialogue in a harsh manner, the discussion will escalate into an argument and ultimately fail. Once an argument rises to a certain point, the couple will struggle to resolve the conflict altogether.

3. Flooding

This happens when emotions are so intense that neither spouse can gain perspective or deescalate the argument. Flooding can also reflect other types of physiological distress. It can occur due to hurts and damage caused by the argument itself, or it can be the result of reminders of past negative experiences. Typically, when having a reaction characterized by flooding, people’s heart rates rise, as they enter into a fight, flight, or freeze mode.

4. Failed Repair Attempts

When attempts to repair and improve the relationship have failed, a sense of futility can set in. Research indicates that if the elements of arguing described as the “Four Horsemen” are prevalent, the marriage is 82 percent likely to end in divorce. Combined with a history of failed repair attempts, the chance of the relationship ending rises to more than 90 percent. Learning how to make up and repair hurts in a relationship is critical to marital longevity.

5. Bad Memories

Deeply-entrenched couples often have a negative view of their marriage or spouse and, in turn, rewrite the past. If you find it difficult to recall your early days fondly, and/or if you have rewritten your marital history, chances are the marriage has tipped into what Dr. Gottman calls “Negative Sentiment Override.” This occurs when one or both spouses perceive the marriage as more problematic than good.

If these patterns and behaviors are familiar to you, it can be painful. You might be experiencing feelings of hopefulness or are unsure whether things will ever get better.

However, just as there is research that helps professionals identify and understand the negative patterns couples can develop, there is also research to help us understand how these patterns can be named and healed.

About the Author

Kerry Lusignan, MA, LMHC is the The Northampton Center For Couples Therapy Director/Founder. She is a Certified Gottman Therapist and a Licensed Mental Health Counselor. To learn more about how The Northampton Center For Couples Therapy can help you and your partner with developing new patterns that promote shared understanding and healing, visit


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