Current divorce rates are 40-50% in the United States with divorce rates showing as higher for second marriages (60%) than first marriages (Gehart, 2018; America Psychological Association). These numbers show how important it is to identify when a relationship is experiencing problems, and take steps to understand and mediate the problems. Research shows that one area that can lead to increased divorce rates is dealing with conflict resolution in relationships.
Gottman and Levenson (1999) stated that the predictors of divorce during the resolution of conflict are belligerence, defensiveness, contempt, domineering, stonewalling, and disgust. Gottman has further paired down these factors that can lead to divorce into what is called “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse”: Criticism (implying something is overall wrong with partner), Defensiveness, Contempt (seeing self as being superior and is also the best predictor of divorce), and Stonewalling (listener withdraws from conversation) (Gehart 2018; Gottman & Levenson, 1999). It is also important to note the amount of positive to negative interactions a couple has, which in a healthy relationship is usually at 5:1 (for every 5 positive interactions, there is 1 negative). Negative affect reciprocity is another predictor of divorce, which is when one partner acts negatively toward the other, which then creates a negative affect in the partner, as well (Gehart, 2018; Gottman & Levenson, 1999).
These responses when dealing with conflict can lead to a higher chance of divorce if not addressed, though it is important to note that most couples experience some level of these factors throughout their relationship. How couples react to these factors impact the outcome of the relationship. It has been shown that reaction to conflict can be in the form of a defense mechanism that leads to a need for protection, or it can lead to a restorative action that leads to peace and safety (Beckenback, Patrick, & Sells, 2009). Mitigating how one reacts in this situation can lead to a healthier relationship for both parties, which is why intervention, whether that be couples or family counseling or enhancements groups, are so important in times of extreme conflict.
If you identify any of these factors as being an issue within your relationship, there is no need to worry quite yet. There are steps that can be taken to overcome these obstacles, even in the early stages of a relationship. Marital preparation and enrichment programs help to address conflict and issues within relationships early on (or maybe not so early on) so they don’t become bigger issues later on in the relationship. They have also shown to decrease divorce rates and future couple distress, with 66% of couples who participate in these programs being better off than those who don’t participate (Gehart, 2018).
Couples and Family therapists can help with developing and maintaining healthy relationships. Divorce affects all members of the family unit and this is important to keep in mind when looking for services. See the list of resources we have provided for all the different stages of the relationship when going through or considering divorce. Please see information on divorce and different family units in the other sections of this website.
Relationship Enhancement Groups
Chicago Relationship Enhancement Group
Chicago Psychotherapy Services
Psychology Today: Relationship Issues Therapist
Psychotherapy Associates of Chicago
Chicago Divorce Mediator
Psychologist-Recommended Books on Relationships