Marriage advice: Simple test will predict if a couple will get divorced – NEWS.com.au
My phone recently pinged up a notification that a Wall Street Journal article on the mathematics behind lasting love was trending and being a long term in-love-ite, I clicked on it with interest.
My husband and I met at the young age of 18, nearly 25 years ago, and there have been times when that’s given us pause to wonder if we should have explored more but it just never happened because at the end of the day, we like being in each other’s company. That said, we’re very different people, so we have disagreements on the reg (we’ve even had times so tricky we’ve toyed with the idea of separating).
Apparently, however, there’s one habit we have that has kept us together.
And it’s science that says so.
The notification linked me to a WSJ story about a highly predictive model that’s been successfully crystal-balling which relationships will work for more than 20 years.
Mathematician James Murray and well-known love and relationship guru and psychologist, John Gottman teamed up to explore what exactly makes some marriages happy and some miserable, beginning by creating a mathematical model that quantified how couples interact and influence each other during an argument.
Their magic model boasts a phenomenal predictive success rate, with a 100 per cent accuracy at spotting a future divorce or a couple who will last the distance happily. The only incorrect calls were several couples that were tipped to stay together unhappily, who instead bit the bullet and divorced.
The math and science stuff
Murray and Dr Gottman’s subjects initially included 130 couples, some newlyweds, others soon to be married. Each couple was videotaped for three 15-minute conversations, one in which the partners were instructed to talk about their day, the another they were told to talk about something positive. In the final interview, they were instructed to talk about something contentious.
Throughout the interviews, 16 different emotions were coded. At one end of the spectrum, contempt, the most corrosive emotion, according to Dr. Gottman, was scored -4. At the other end, shared humour, one of the best ways to defuse tension, according to Dr Gottman, was scored +4.
The scores for the various emotions expressed during each exchange were summed, and the researchers plotted the scores for each subsequent exchange as a time series on a graph. This data was then used to determine how a couple resolves conflicts.
For those with a continuously downward graph, the researchers predicted they found it very, very difficult to appreciate what the other one was thinking — these were the couples they correctly surmised would have a short or unhappy marriage.
Through their research, they found marriages fell into five categories: validating, volatile, conflict-avoiding, hostile and hostile-detached (a significantly more negative pairing). Only three — validating, volatile and conflict-avoiding — are stable.
One simple strategy for sticking it out
They also found the couples’ results varied little over the years they repeated the tests, leading the doctors to surmise how a couple interacts stays fairly stable over time (so you’re really not imagining it when it comes to Groundhog Day arguments over certain flashpoints.)
From all of this the duo said if they were to boil down their work to one simple strategy for couples, they’d lean towards: “Face each other when talking. And acknowledge your role in the dispute.”
For us, while we do disagree often, our longevity is clearly down to both being good at expressing why we are unhappy about something and finding middle ground where possible; not to mention being dab hands at listening to the other person and considering their perspective. Another big tick goes to being able to inject humour into these ‘debates’ and take personal responsibility for the mistakes we’ve made. And you know, all those other tiny things that go into making a relationship last!
Interestingly enough, my hubby and I share our conflict resolution style with both our parents — who have been married for many decades. In fact, I can still remember asking my Mum, after overhearing a frank discussion one day, if her and Dad were going to divorce. Her answer has always stuck with me: “It’s much healthier to air your grievances openly and honestly so you can resolve them and move on than ignore your problems and let resentment build up.”
This story originally appeared on Kidspot and is republished with permission.