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Can you avoid divorce?

The short answer of course is yes, or else I'd be out of a job. Seeking therapy early is key. It turns out that the only true predictor of divorce is when one partner completely shuts down for good. If you're still fighting, your marriage is still alive--even if it is full of contempt, criticism, and defensiveness. And if it's alive, it can heal. Even in cases where one partner has shut down, the willing partner's seeking out therapy can soften the other partner, who is eventually willing to start trying again.

According to leading marriage researcher John Gottman, there are four communication patterns in troubled marriages, which he calls the "four horsemen" (i.e., of the "marriage apocalypse"). I stole his terms above--they are defensiveness, criticism, contempt, and stonewalling. Stonewalling is what I referred to as shutting down. Dr. Gottman shook the therapy world by conducting an extensive study to identify these patterns and track which ones predicted divorce. Only stonewalling predicted divorce, and did so with 80% certainty. This is all the more reason to seek help early, but even then, all is not lost.

Again, even if one partner is "stonewalling," and appears "done," or shut down, the willing partner's seeking out therapy is inevitably beneficial to that partner. Additionally, as I said, it can often inspire the unwilling partner to start trying again.

Here is a link to a more extensive explanation of the "four horsemen" on the Gottman Institute blog (click here).

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