Divorce prediction and avoidance - a therapeutic answer

20 October 2014

Last week was a bad one for Hatton Garden.  Research from Emory University in Georgia, USA was published, which apparently showed that men who spend more on engagement rings are more likely to divorce.

This helpful research provides an answer - spend less on the ring and live happily ever after…that is unless you marry a social worker.  2012 research from Radford University in the USA linked the type of work you or your partner do to the chances of divorce.  A bartender who marries a social worker has a combined 30% chance of divorce whilst the love match between a podiatrist and optometrist has a mere 5.4% chance of failure.

Divorce prediction hit a high note with the work of the New York Times journalist John Tierney and the statistician Garth Sundem, who combined efforts to create a formula to predict the chances of a celebrity marriage working. In short, the formula was the ratio of the mentions in the black top press (New York Times) divided by the mentions in the red tops (National Enquirer). The greater the tabloid fame, the more likely the relationship was to be doomed. 

Not wanting to miss out on the fun, the Daily Mail last year ran the story:

“Will Anne [Hathaway] be the next victim of the Oscar curse?  Leading actresses who win awards 63% more likely to get divorced”

Amongst all of this excitement, I remembered the 2005 best seller by Malcolm Gladwell “Blink” which introduced me to the work of Dr John Gottman. Gladwell reported, “if he analyses an hour of a husband and wife talking, he can predict with 95% accuracy whether that couple will still be married 15 years later”. 

Dr Gottman, Professor Emeritus in Psychology at the University of Washington and recognised as one of the world’s most influential therapists, is the real thing.  Working with his wife, their methodology was based on decades of clinical practice with thousands of couples. 

Their research provided him with an ability to see into the future with the knowledge to guide marriage therapists and couples counsellors; none of the “and how did that make you feel?” for him, Gottman could see the four Horsemen of the Apocalypse in:

  • Criticism
  • Contempt
  • Defensiveness
  • Stonewalling

According to Gottman, each horseman appears in order.  Criticism is an attack, the receiver feels assaulted and hurt, their behaviour escalates until the second horseman, contempt, arrives “fuelled by long simmering negative thoughts”. Contempt apparently is the real enemy of marriage and the greatest predictor of divorce. Finally, in the death throes of the marriage, the two final horsemen, defensiveness and stonewalling take form, excuses and then withdrawal.

Dr Paul Hokemeyer, the legendary New York therapist, describes Gottman and his work:

“they’ve distilled down the essence of what makes for a quality relationship and spoon fed it to their clients and clinicians who are trained in the methodology” 

Mandy Saligari, in my mind London’s go to family, couples and addiction therapist, is a solid fan too:

“lots of useful research that led the thinking with very simple accessible messages” 

Could this be marriage and couples counselling made simple?  If it is indeed possible to identify the real drivers of divorce, should every couple contemplating marriage go through a Gottman style analysis - and if they did, would they listen? 

As Alexander Pope would say “hope springs eternal in the human breast”, a thought presumably shared by Lisa Butcher when she married Marco Pierre White in 1992.  Butcher wore a dress (highly revealing) created by Bruce Oldfield, which can now be found at the V&A Wedding Dresses 1775 to 2014 exhibition. The marriage lasted 15 weeks and it has been said that White accused his bride of dressing for the press. I am now waiting for an American university to publish research findings on weddings dresses and divorce to add to the list of tenuous predictor studies. 

Further information

If you have any questions about the issues raised in this blog, please contact a member of our team of family and divorce lawyers.

For further reading on relationships, marriage and divorce, see also The Gottman Institute Relationship Blog and Dr Paul Hokemeyer's Blog.

Share insightLinkedIn Twitter Facebook Email to a friend Print

Email this page to a friend

We welcome views and opinions about the issues raised in this blog. Should you require specific advice in relation to personal circumstances, please use the form on the contact page.

Leave a comment

You may also be interested in:

Close Load more

Ready to find out where you stand?

Our online systems allow you to get started anywhere, any time and you can save your progress.

Click here to get started

Skip to content Home About Us Insights Services Contact Accessibility