Science Reveals 4 Behaviors That Predict Likelihood of Getting Divorced: Part I

Divorce is a personal and complex experience that can lead to some surprisingly positive outcomes. Of course, ideally, you want to minimize the likelihood that you and your spouse would ever split. However, what if you knew that certain actions or errors of omission predicted the likelihood that your relationship would break down? Would you seek counseling or engage in self-improvement? Would you save yourself heartache by getting out early from a marriage that’s unlikely to succeed long term?

In a series of well known, if controversial experiments, psychologists and researchers John Gottman and Robert Levenson analyzed couples and came to some startling conclusions about what causes divorce. They identified four destructive behaviors that, when present in relationships, apparently predict which marriages end in divorce a staggering 93 percent of the time.

This two-part blog series will examine this research and these behaviors in detail, exploring the motivations behind them and putting the scientific work into context. Whether you’re asking big questions about what went wrong with your own relationship (and how to prevent problems the next time), or you’re just curious about what the science actually says with respect to what puts relationships at risk of breaking down, hopefully, you will find this analysis useful.

Here are the first two “red flag” behaviors.


Contempt encompasses much more than the occasional negative comment said out of frustration. According to Gottman, a psychologist at the University of Washington, contempt is seeing your partner as beneath you, as opposed to an equal. It’s evidently the “kiss of death” for a relationship.

When your significant other makes a mistake, for instance, are you more likely to blame or sympathize with your partner? Let’s consider how this might play out in an everyday situation. Perhaps you asked your partner to do a load of your laundry with his to save you some trouble. When you come home to find a clean basket of laundry, you notice that your favorite shirt shrunk two sizes. Do you accept responsibility for not reminding him to air dry this shirt? Or do you immediately get angry at him, thinking he should have known to air dry that shirt because he’s seen you hang it up to dry a million times before?

Simply put: if you see yourself as smarter, more sensitive, or otherwise better than your partner, you aren’t likely to sympathize with him or her enough to build a strong, healthy relationship.


Similar to contempt, criticism is when you take a simple action as a reflection of your partner’s character. You extrapolate from the specific to the general, in other words. For example, she forgot to pick you up from the airport. The critic might say she did so because she’s selfish, lazy, or insensitive. He extrapolates from the single behavior to draw conclusions about her character instead of seeking alternative explanations. For instance, maybe she had the stomach flu or she felt out of sorts because she just read about a dear friend’s medical problem on Facebook. True: certain repeated behaviors can sometimes indicate character issues. However, when you jump to criticisms of a person’s character, you shut the door on opportunities to correct the behavior itself. An unwillingness to cooperate only breeds contempt and puts your relationship in jeopardy.

For more on behaviors that could be putting your relationship on the fast track to divorce, check out part II of the series. For immediate insight into how to handle your separation, please contact our compassionate, effective Washington D.C. attorneys at (888) 530-4374.