Predicting Divorce w/ 3 Minute Test - 9/29/99
Wed Sep 29 16:30:43 EDT 1999
from: Smart Marriages
Wednesday, September 29, 1999
STUDY FINDS GROUNDS TO PREDICT DIVORCES 3-MINUTE TEST FOCUSES ON HOW
September 29, 1999
SEATTLE Forget all those magazine relationship tests that line
Filling out those quizzes, after all, takes time. The latest method of
predicting whether a new marriage will last, developed by University of
Washington psychology researchers, takes three minutes.
The only catch is that you have to have an argument.
It's how you fight that counts, said researchers John Gottman and Sybil
Carrere. By watching newlyweds in the first three minutes of a fight,
they concluded that couples who escalate the dispute are much more likely
"The biggest lesson to be learned from this study is that the way couples
begin a discussion about a problem--how you present an issue and how your
partner responds to you--is absolutely critical," Gottman said.
The researchers followed 124 childless Seattle-area couples married less
than nine months. For all, it was their first marriage, and most of them
were in their 20s.
The study, which began in 1990, gauged how they dealt with stress in
their marriage. The couples were hooked up to a variety of sensors,
including electrocardiograms, and were interviewed about their
relationship. Specifically, they were asked to identify two topics that
were serious issues in their young marriages.
Researchers then left the room and videotaped the discussions.
Between 1990 and 1996, 17 of the couples divorced, and two more have
split since then, Carrere said. Researchers discovered the key to
predicting which couples would divorce: The first three minutes showed
clear differences in how couples handled disagreements.
In discussions where the husband was more negative at the beginning and
became more belligerent, the odds were not good for a lasting marriage,
Although women also became somewhat more negative as a discussion
continued, the differences between those who stayed married and those who
did not were not as pronounced.
The researchers found five negative behaviors that can be toxic to a
marriage: contempt, defensiveness, criticism, belligerence and
Most arguments started when the wife presented a problem, Carrere said.
"We found it very important for her to lay out the problem in a way as
soft as possible," she said, adding that researchers didn't find anger to
be a toxic emotion unless it attacked the partner.
For example, Carrere said, a wife might say, "You always come home late
from work. What's wrong with you?" Instead, she should say, "I'm really
upset you came home late." That way, Carrere said, the wife is not
attacking her husband.
For the husband, it's important he not escalate the war of words. Rather
than getting immediately defensive, he should listen to what his wife
"The magic of the first three minutes is they're setting up the
argument," she said. Is the wife laying out a problem in a way that is
softer? Is the husband responding in a way that doesn't escalate
"Couples have got to figure out how to fight," Carrere said. "They have
to care about their partner's feelings."
The study shows it's important to work on the friendship of your
marriage, that fights should be fair, and that even at the height of an
argument you should be thinking about what you can do to help the
relationship, she said.
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