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Psychologists Mark Behaviors That Make Divorce Predictable

Business Insider recently highlighted work that the Gottman Institute and University of California at Berkeley concerning four reactions which could be telltale signs that a marriage is headed for divorce. Specifically, the four behaviors—stonewalling, contempt, criticism, and defensiveness—as they appear in conversations between couples can be significant predictors of divorce. And when they coupled these observations with questions about relationship satisfaction and thoughts of separation, researchers were able to predict which marriages would end in divorce a shocking 93 percent of the time. The researchers ended up calling these behaviors the “four horsemen of the apocalypse.”

According to the study, even the many newlywed couples who yelled at each other, showed contempt, or cut off conversation within the first year of marriage were more likely to end up divorcing, even 16 years later. The article provided descriptions of the specific behaviors:


The article distinguishes “contempt” from simple anger or frustration by the accompanied feeling that you are better than or too good for your partner. This includes constantly feeling smarter or better than your partner in other ways, thus leading to an invalidation of their opinions.


Criticism too can turn from something that is isolated to something that is more deep-seated and resentful. For example, using a habit or behavior of your partner’s and turning it into a statement about their overall character.


Everyone knows defensiveness when they see it; exclaiming that something isn’t your fault instead of just taking responsibility for your role in a difficult situation. It can lead to a lot of frustration in a relationship, particularly if one party is always taking responsibility and the other isn’t.


Stonewalling describes cutting off a potential fight or discussion by ignoring your partner, walking away, pulling out your phone, etc. Blocking off conversation can be absolutely toxic to a relationship and can prevent potentially solving problems in the relationship by, instead, talking things out.

Keep in Mind…

It is important to note that many relationships occasionally exhibit one or more of these behaviors; what separates the normal from the toxic (or headed for divorce, according to the researchers), is when the four behaviors start to outweigh and sometimes replace the positive aspects of the relationship.

Other interesting revelations that came out of the study include:

  • Individual destructive behaviors during the first year predicted higher divorce rates overall/even years later;
  • Wives’ destructive and withdrawn behaviors decreased over time; husbands’ remained stable; and
  • Husbands reported more constructive and less destructive behaviors than wives.

Contact Us for Advice & Representation during Divorce

If you are considering or currently dealing with divorce or legal separation, contact the office of Sandra Bonfiglio today to schedule a consultation and find out how we can help you. Simply having someone knowledgeable by your side to guide you through the process can make it feel less stressful. We serve clients in Boca Raton, Fort Lauderdale, and surrounding areas in all areas of family law.

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