There is no set formula of what causes a divorce. When a couple walks down the aisle, their fate is not sealed. Arguments, however, can be one of the biggest factors that ends up impacting a couple's long-term happiness.
Arguments that lead to divorce tend to drive wedges between partners that are harder to repair.
Dr. John Gottman is famous for his study of the " Four Horsemen," four communication styles that can predict the end of a relationship. These habits — criticism, contempt, defense, and stonewalling — are only some of a variety of toxic communication patterns that can be a hint that a couple may not last.
Avoiding these sorts of communication styles is one thing, but approaching arguments with love is what really indicates a relationship is built for the ages. "Gottman found that
kindness and generosity were big predictors of a successful marriage," David Bennett, certified counselor and relationship expert, tells Bustle. "Over time, many conversations within relationships lack these important traits, and partners start coming across as filled with contempt and an unwillingness to see anything positive in their partner." So while one horrible fight may not necessarily catapult a couple towards divorce, patterns of harshness and criticism, instead of kindness and understanding, can make an eventual breakup a bit more likely.
Here are eight argument patterns that are likely to predict divorce, according to experts.
One of the most harmful long-term patterns when it comes to arguments is defensiveness. While if may feel like a natural reaction to criticism, it can be a major obstacle to actually resolving
problems in your relationship.
"When one spouse criticizes the other and they react in a defensive posture, the concern is not heard or addressed, and the one criticized feels even worse," licensed clinical professional counselor and certified Imago relationship therapist
Rabbi Shlomo Slatkin, tells Bustle. "It's important to be able to express a frustration in a safe and productive way without criticizing the other. It's also important to listen without defensiveness." You and your partner may consider relationship therapy if you struggle breaking this pattern.
Passive-aggression may be an easy way to get your point across, but it's definitely not a healthy way to maintain a long-term relationship or marriage.
"Passive-aggressive communication style leads to issues with arguing because people are never clear about their expectations in their relationships," licensed clinical social worker and therapist
Nedra Glover Tawwab, tells Bustle. "Having clear expectations makes for the likelihood of your needs being met in future interactions." Being more upfront about your feelings and your needs can prevent this from becoming a toxic pattern in your relationship.
If you've noticed that you and your partner have fallen into a pattern of one person attacking while the other withdraws in arguments, you may be stumbling into an unhealthy habit.
"[One negative] dynamic occurs where one partner withdraws and avoids communication, prompting the other to aggressively pursue, provoking further withdrawal," Rabbi Slatkin says. "It is a vicious cycle that will lead to a feeling of disconnect." Finding ways to
de-escalate your arguments and get on a more even playing-field may help prevent this pattern from sabotaging your connection. Tirachard Kumtanom/Shutterstock
The way an argument starts is just as important as the way it ends. So if you and your partner consistently start off on the wrong foot, you may be heading towards a more likely divorce
"Gottman found that 'harsh startups' in conversations lead to divorce," Bennett says. "This is when a partner, instead of bringing up a relationship issue neutrally (or even with some empathy), brings it up with sarcasm and criticism. This leads leads to
relationship discord." To stay together, you and your partner may want to find ways to start difficult conversations in more positive, constructive ways.
Having More Negativity Than Positivity In Conflict
Couples that get divorced, research suggests, focus on the negative much more than the positive in conflict. Gottman's research suggests a ratio of 5:1 — five positive interactions to every one negative one — in successful couples. He calls this "
the magic ratio."
"Alternatively, couples more likely to divorce emphasize the negative while leaving out the positive when communicating with their spouses," Bennett says. "In fact one common cognitive distortion is 'filtering out the positive' which can lead, especially in a heated discussion, to discount any positives." So just as you want to keep from constantly telling yourself bad thoughts, you may want to ensure that you're not always criticizing your partner — even when things get complicated.
Fighting When Totally Overwhelmed
Even though there tends to be a bit of momentum during fights, it's likely in your best interest to not let you and your partner get carried away in the heat of the moment.
"When heart rates exceed 98 beats per minute you are '
flooding,'" licensed marriage and family therapist Beth Wylie, tells Bustle. "This means that you have lost the ability to problem solve and be creative. You typically are fighting to win when you are flooded and no longer listening to your partner. The most damage can be done when we are flooded." Even a 30 minute soothing "time-out" from an argument can help prevent some of the most destructive interactions. The silent treatment isn't just annoying. It's actually a really unhealthy habit for the health of your marriage or relationship. Gottman calls this pattern "stonewalling."
"[Stonewalling] can be shutting down, storming off, or giving the silent treatment," licensed marriage and family therapist
Carrie Krawiec, tells Bustle. "When an argument devolves into chaos and someone stops participating this is stonewalling." Finding ways to communicate during an argument, instead of shutting down, can help keep you and your partner on the same page. Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock
It's perfectly valid to criticize your partner when they've done something that hurts you. Criticizing their character during arguments, however, is not a healthy long-term habit.
"Where a complaint may be 'I hate the way you leave your wet towel on the bed' a criticism is, 'you are so lazy and insensitive,'" Krawiec says. "The difference is the first is an unarguable truth and speaks to the behavior. The second is vague, debatable, a matter of opinion, doesn’t really say what you would like change and is an assault on the person’s whole identity." Finding ways to give specifics about what's bothering you can help keep your arguments less toxic and less likely to lead to divorce.
Since kindness and generosity are such important variables when it comes to a lasting marriage, then it makes sense that argument patterns that prevent this kind of openness might be the ones that prove most destructive in the long-run. No single habit can prove you'll get divorced, but learning to change these patterns is likely only going to help strengthen your connection with your partner over the years.