Researchers who have studied over 40,000 couples can predict divorce with 94% accuracy largely based on this communication error

Connie Queline

Researchers who have studied over 40,000 couples can predict divorce with 94% accuracy largely based on this communication error

Couples are always looking for the secret to success, especially as about 40% of first marriages end in divorce.

To explore the key to a long-lasting relationship, John Gottman, Ph.D., a relationship and marriage researcher and therapist, cofounded The Gottman Institute, alongside his wife, psychologist Julie Gottman, Ph.D. The institute provides data on divorce probability and tips for successful marriages. 

After decades of research and observing thousands of couples, the institute’s research arm has distilled the most common relationship pitfalls leading to divorce. The Gottmans have predicted the odds of divorce with 94% accuracy since their research of the behavior of over 40,000 couples over the years. So, what’s the secret to success? 

It may sound simple, but whether or not a couple “turns toward” one another can make a massive difference in the relationship’s longevity.

“When a couple turns toward each other, they make and respond to what we call ‘bids for connection,’” the Gottmans penned in a CNBC article.

What is ‘turning toward’ one another?

While turning toward can look like a small gesture of acknowledgement and care, it signals to your partner that they are being seen, heard, and appreciated. 

“Bids can range from little things, like trying to catch your attention by calling out your name, to big things, like asking for deeper needs to be met,” the Gottmans write. 

Happy couples turn toward their partner 20 times more than couples in distress, according to The Gottman Institute.

Six years after the wedding, couples who stayed together turned toward one another 86% of the time compared to 33% of the time for couples who got divorced. 

The Gottman Institute found that the response to a bid is a critical part of a healthy marriage, no matter the subtlety. Bids usually contain a subtext, where “come make a cheese board with me” also means “join me on an adventure” or “I want to spend quality time with you.” While it may be counterintuitive, missing a bid can be more harmful than rejecting one altogether. At least if you say you cannot do something or respond at the given time, you are still acknowledging the bid. 

The Four Horseman

According to further research from The Gottman Institute, four negative communication styles, deemed the Four Horseman, also heavily predicted divorce: criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling. 

To counter these predictive outcomes, practice articulating your needs, taking responsibility when needed, and remembering your fondness for one another. Stonewalling, in particular, can look like “tuning out, turning away, acting busy, or engaging in obsessive or distracting behaviors,” according to The Gottman Institute, which is contrary to turning toward. 

So the next time your partner asks you to watch a funny YouTube video, don’t walk away. Better yet, lean in and watch along.

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