Positive Psychology Column
By Tom Muha, Ph.D.
Is your relationship headed for divorce?
your marriage among the two out of three that will end in divorce? A
world-renowned psychologist has just announced that he has developed a
scientific formula that can accurately predict which couples will divorce. But
the research also found that understanding their conflict allows some couples
to stop their downhill slide and save their marriage.
world’s foremost researcher on marital relationships, psychologist John
Gottman, has completed a 20-year study of more than 600 couples that confirms
what other positive psychologists have discovered is fundamental to achieving
happiness: people who learn to transform their negative emotions into positive
feelings are most likely to have satisfying marriages.
the other hand, he found that couples who are harsh in their communication and
hold onto anger prolong the hostility. This eventually erodes the foundation of
their marriage and is a strong predictor of divorce.
fact, Professor Gottman’s research found that couples who had the most intense
negative exchanges ended up divorcing after only 5.6 years of marriage. Couples
who maintained a low level of negativity became emotionally disengaged over
time, his studies show, and finally divorced after being married 16.2 years.
latest research describes three types of stable marriages, but only one type in
which people experience an abundance of the most powerful positive emotion,
first type of marriage that is likely to last involves individuals who avoid
conflict. Although this type of relationship lacks much emotion of any kind and
leaves the spouses very distant from each other, it has been found to endure
because it virtually eliminates the negativity that drives people to divorce.
second type of marriage that survives involves those couples that are
constantly bickering. These folks maintain an emotional connection, albeit one
involving constant friction. Although such people have frequent squabbles, they
also know how to repair their relationship and produce positive exchanges when they’re
not fussing with one another.
third type of marriage that endures is one in which the couple validates one
another. This type of relationship is the one that produces the strongest
feelings of love.
who validate one another take the time to listen to each other, usually 20
minutes every day. They’re good at listening to each another and they develop a
deep understanding of what’s going on in their partner’s world. They provide
encouragement to one another when facing challenges in life, and lots of
positive reinforcement when successful results are achieved.
pick the issues they fight about so they address what’s important and avoid the
small stuff. When they do occasionally argue, they maintain respect for each
another’s opinions. They know that a successful resolution of their differences
ultimately awaits them when they find the win-win solution that includes
elements of what each person needs in order to be happy.
what happens when there is a mix of styles in a relationship? It’s bad news for
couples whose relationship styles don’t mesh. For example, a couple in which
the husband is prone to bickering but the wife is an avoider of conflict is
probably headed for a divorce, according to these latest findings.
only hope for such couples, the study says, is to for each of them to learn how
to find a happy middle ground for how they will deal with conflict.
Fortunately, these relationship skills can be taught and have been proven to be
effective in helping 65% of couples to be able to stay together.
how to cope with conflict constructively is a crucial skill for couples to
master in order to prevent the destruction caused by unleashing a flood of
negativity. Discovering how to soothe one another and solve problems in a
mutually satisfying manner are essential tools.
your partner to influence you is another component to constructing win-win
solutions to problems. Contrast this “two heads are better than one” attitude
with the uncompromising person who thinks that he’s right and his partner is
controlling the negative isn’t enough. Happy couples, studies show, create five
times as many positive interactions as negative encounters.
are many positives produced in the daily 20 minute conversation described
above. Learning how to get one another’s attention, affection and support are
the skills that form the basis for connection, romance and a passionate sex
In addition, couples also need to learn how to
expand their expression of fondness and admiration for one another. Keeping
love alive is all about controlling conflict and continually recreating good
Tom Muha is a psychologist in
Annapolis. He welcomes your comments and questions. To contact him call (443)
454-7274 or email him at email@example.com.