4 Destructive Behaviors That Almost Always Lead to Divorce

Arguing can be healthy for a marriage, but it can also be disastrous. And until now, no one really knew how to tell if they were having the good kind or the bad kind of fight. But a 14-year study just shared four behaviors that tend to crop up in arguments that almost always mean the couple is headed for divorce

The study comes from John Gottman, a University of Washington psychologist and founder of the Gottman Institute, and UC Berkeley psychologist Robert Levenson. The two studied 79 Midwestern couples for 14 years, and by looking for certain behaviors, they could predict which marriages would end in divorce 93 percent of the time.

If they're happening frequently enough, these four behaviors are indicators that a relationship could be doomed:

  • 1. Contempt 

    couple arguing

    It's contempt more than any other behavior that's bad news for a relationship, according to Gottman. He describes it as "a virulent mix of anger and disgust," and if people are displaying it, they're looking at their partners as stupid, incompetent, or otherwise beneath them.

    People who feel contempt have closed themselves off from the needs and emotions of their partners. They're less likely to look at a situation from their partners' perspectives, which makes a healthy relationship difficult.

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  • 2. Criticism 

    guy criticizing a woman

    When Gottman talks about criticism, he's thinking a little deeper than your standard insult. Criticism gets dangerous when someone's taking a behavior and turning it into a statement about his or her partner's character. So, instead of asking someone to change a bad habit, a person displaying criticism would think, "Why am I married to the type of person who picks their nose in public?!"

  • 3. Defensiveness

    unhappy couple

    In a healthy relationship, both parties would take responsibility for their role in a bad situation. In a relationship doomed for divorce, someone might take a defensive stance instead owning up to his or her mistakes. So, if you're hearing "It's not my fault!" often, you could be in a bad place.

  • 4. Stonewalling

    unhappy couple
    Stonewalling is the name Gottman gives to the act of totally blocking out someone and refusing to communicate -- especially when it's time for an argument. Stonewalling could look like someone pulling out his or her phone and texting or just turning and walking out the door, but if there's no argument or release when the conversation is getting tense, that generally means trouble. 
  • Of course, some measure of all these behaviors is natural in a relationship.

    couple making up
    Martin Dimitrov/iStock

    It's when someone's displaying them frequently (like, a few times in a 15-minute argument) that things could be in trouble. 

    Even so, if you manage to identify and address them, you're already in a better place than you were. With the right discussions, there's always hope for a relationship to get stronger instead of weaker -- just make sure you're trying to see your partner's perspective.

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