Note: This is an excerpt from the book "When ALL Else Fails: Minimizing the Damage, Before, During, and After Divorce" by Kevin Karlson JD PhD available now on Amazon and Kindle.
Getting divorced just because you don't love a man is almost as silly as getting married just because you do. Zsa Zsa Gabor
If you are thinking about divorce but are unsure about whether to do it
or not, this may help you decide. Dr. John Gottman, founder of the
Gottman Institute in Seattle, has emerged as a leading expert in the
understanding of marriage dynamics and in predicting divorce. After
more than 25 years of research and therapy with married and divorcing
couples, a number of basic patterns in how married couples interact can
be used to predict divorce (in the absence of change in these patterns).
First, there are two periods in married life when the risk of divorce is
After 5-7 years of marriage when conflict is usually highest.
After 10-12 years of marriage, as a result of lost intimacy.
It should be noted that marital conflict often increases when a baby
arrives, which usually happens during the first few years of marriage
(see bullet one above).
After the first child is born, 40 to 70% of couples
report significant declines in satisfaction with their marriage. So, a
period of marital dissatisfaction is the norm after the first child is born,
and in the absence of malignant interaction patterns, does NOT
necessarily lead to divorce . (Remember, most unhappiness is
The process that leads to loss of intimacy takes longer to result in
divorce, and research has identified the malignant interaction patterns
that DO predict divorce. These are:
A one to one ratio between positive and negative interactions
(for happy couples the ratio of positive to negative interactions is
20 to 1).
Mutual criticism (personal attacks on character, NOT
complaints about specific behavior).
Defensiveness (“no I didn’t”, “yes but…”, “let’s talk about what
YOU did…” or other denials of any personal responsibility).
Stonewalling (refusing to talk in order to avoid conflict).
Contempt for the partner (eye rolling, sarcastic humor,
Of the last four factors, those Gottman called the “four horsemen” (of
the Apocalypse), contempt is the worst, and most damaging to
Here are some other findings from the research on marriage:
Conventional wisdom says it is not a good idea to “go to bed
angry”. Gottman discovered that “flooding” – a physiological
phenomenon triggered by emotional conflict — leaves people’s
heart rates too high for them to think clearly and concentrate
on the conversation at hand. He found that taking the time to
calm down before finishing an angry conversation is more likely
to help couples stay close and connected. So take a time out,
and if it’s late, agree to start over in the morning.
From the research on domestic violence, we have learned that
couples therapy with battering couples actually makes things
worse for the woman—not better—another significant
departure from the conventional wisdom. Partners need to get
The Bottom Line
If your relationship is not overwhelmingly positive in your pattern of
interactions with your partner, but rather is characterized by Gottman’s
“four horsemen” of criticism, defensiveness, stonewalling, and
especially contempt, your odds of being divorced are more than four
out of five within five years.
If you want to stay married, you both need to change the way you
interact. When marriages fail, both parties contribute to the failure.
Take responsibility for your contribution and get help. That means
getting professional help for both of you. Do it now.