9 Clever Hacks That Can Actually Prevent Divorce, According To Research
Relationships might seem like mysterious, unknowable things. Though often it's easy enough to tell when a relationship is doomed from the start, other matchups seem like they'll last for the long haul, only to fizzle out. But some scientists have actually figured out how to predict divorce with way higher accuracy than you might think — and they can use that knowledge to prevent divorce.
"Using the scientific method is essential to understand relationships," David Bennett, a certified counselor and relationship expert, tells Bustle. "For some reason, many people approaching dating and relationships as if they are mysterious or magical. In reality, there are proven ways to strengthen relationships."
One of the most successful of these researchers is Dr. John Gottman, an American psychological researcher and clinician who set out to find whether there were really patterns of behavior, or sequences of interactions, that could differentiate happy and unhappy couples. His research ended up achieving over 90 percent accuracy in predicting divorce, and to this day is among the most replicated in the family research field. And while it may seem overwhelming on the surface to look to scientific studies to understand your relationship, Dr. Gottman's findings are easy to apply to a large variety of romantic relationships.
When you begin to understand the science behind their relationships, you may be able to find success that otherwise seemed unattainable. The behaviors that prevent divorce are often shockingly simple. Here are nine clever hacks that can actually prevent divorce, according to scientific research.
1. Their Arguments Have Something Called "The Magic Ratio"
In an argument, in might seem natural for the negative to outweigh the positive. That can feel like an obvious part of conflict. But for the most successful couples Dr. Gottman researched, the positive moments outweighed the negative in an argument at a ratio of five to one. Dr. Gottman calls this "The Magic Ratio" — where moments of lightness and humor still continue, even as a couple discusses a point of conflict between them.
For couples who ended up getting divorced, the ratio between positive and negative moments was one to one or less. So if you need a little "hack" to keep your relationship strong, Dr. Gottman's research suggests loving moments like holding hands, making jokes, empathizing, and apologizing. These tiny things can help keep your relationship strong.
2. They Don't Start Arguments On The Attack
Starting an argument off with an attack — what Dr. Gottman calls a "harsh start-ups" — can be an indicator of future divorce.
"[Dr. Gottman] suggests that the overall nature of an argument can be determined by simply listening to the first three minutes," Bennett says. "So, instead start an 'argument' less like an argument, and more like a discussion, as well as focusing on the positives before getting into potential criticism." Avoid criticism and sarcasm as your way of starting the conversation; treat the situation more carefully, and you'll be on the side of the most successful marriages.
3. They Don't Give Blanket Criticisms
Language that relies on "always" or "never" thinking is rarely helpful in a relationship. Speaking in absolutes, it turns out, especially as a form of criticism, is actually a predictor of divorce. "Giving the partner negative trait attributions" is one of "The Four Horsemen" of divorce, Dr. Gottman found in his research. Like the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, these four habits — criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling — can indicate the couple's relationship won't last. On the contrary, successful couples avoid language like "you always make things about yourself," and "you are so self-absorbed" and instead offer concrete examples of when they were hurt.
4. They Don't Speak With Contempt
While the first three minutes of an argument are vital, it's also important to avoid firey, hurtful language in general — even in the middle of a conflict in your relationship. Dr. Gottman called these "statements that come from a relative position of superiority," the greatest predictor of divorce out of the Four Horsemen.
Couples who stay together don't say things like "you're an idiot" or indicate an unkind hierarchy in their relationship. Rather, they remember that they are partners, through and through, on equal playing field.
5. They Don't Resort To Defensiveness
Couples who are less likely to get divorced do not attack one another, but they also do not frame themselves as the ones being attacked. Dr. Gottman calls this behavior defensiveness: "self-protection in the form of righteous indignation or innocent victim-hood." Saying something is the other partner's fault, or assuming that your partner is on the attack, is a form of defensiveness.
For those who Dr. Gottman considers less likely to get divorced, language is more empathetic and forthcoming. Partners own up to their mistakes, instead of shoving the blame onto their loved one.
6. They Don't Stonewall One Another
The silent treatment is something best left in grade school. But some couples still resort to an emotional silent treatment: stonewalling. Dr. Gottman calls this "emotional withdrawal from interaction." This could look like shutting down, turning away, or texting during conversations.
More successful couples, on the other hand, don't stonewall. They practice active listening, and find ways to show each other they care, even when things are rough.
7. They Express Active Interest In One Another's Lives
How couples show interest in their partners' lives, and respond to their partner's interest, is a major divorce predictor, according to the Gottman Institute.
In an article on some of the Institute's best research-based tips for successful relationships, Bob Navarra, PSY.D., MAC, suggested tuning in more to your partner's world. "Learn what is happening in your partner’s world," Dr. Navarra wrote. "Ask questions that show you are interested in their day-to-day life. We sometimes forget to check in with our partner or fail to respond to their attempts to connect. Over time this can create serious damage to the relationship." Opening up to your partner about their feelings and worldview can help deepen your connection, even as the years go by.
8. They Take Responsibility And Repair Their Issues
Simply trying to fix things after something has gone wrong, or accepting when your partner tries to fix things, is a major indicator that your relationship might be built to last. "Attempt and allow the repair of negative interactions," Bennett says. "[Gottman's] research shows that repairing negative interactions is important. So even admitting partial fault can help." So, even if you realize your behavior is only part of the problem, own up to it. It shows strength and dignity.
"Dr. Gottman holds repair as one of the most important relationship skills," Dr. Navarra wrote. Couples in distress, it's worth noting, may attempt these sorts of interactions, but not be able to accept their partners offers. Strong couples, on the other hand, both offer and accept repair attempts from their partners.
9. They Always Go Back To Kindness And Generosity
While traits like kindness and generosity may not seem like relationship hacks, falling back on these skills is a common thread that holds successful couples together. "Dr. Gottman expressed that [kindness and generosity] are two factors that really matter in relationship longevity," Bennett says, "... If a couple really wants to save a relationship, focusing on these two elements will have a large impact." If you and your partner can always find a way to be kind and generous with one another, then you're likely on the road to success.
While Dr. Gottman is one of the most successful researchers in this field, no one scientist or theory can predict with complete accuracy whether a specific couple will get divorced or not. What this kind of research can do, however, is find common threads among the strongest couples. And if you're looking to replicate healthy behavior and apply it to your own relationship, this research is a great place to start.