When I ask my clients what they think the number one predictor of divorce is, here are a few of the answers I receive:
Differences in values?
Stress from jobs and kids?
Not enough time for each other?
Well, these are all very good answers, but none of them are correct. Actually, the number one predictor of divorce, according to extensive studies done at Dr. John Gottman’s Love Lab is… avoiding conflict. That’s right. Studies show that couples who avoid fighting with their partner aren’t doing themselves any favors. Instead, they’re practically rushing to divorce court. Why? Because when couples avoid conflict, they’re just putting off the inevitable. Relationships are complex. Merging two separate individuals, with different experiences, perspectives, values, needs, etc. is not an easy thing to do. Conflict is bound to arise. And when those conflicts occur, both partners need to figure out a way to manage it, and to manage it effectively. When they ignore the tension, resentment, isolation and disconnection start to build up until it’s all too much to handle. On the other hand, when couples do confront their differences directly and productively, they learn how to work together as a team, which is one of the strongest antidotes to divorce.
Dr. Gottman suggests that there are specific ways to address issues that come up in your relationship so that you’re actually strengthening your bond with your partner, rather than flirting with a separation. Follow these rules for managing fights with your partner and you’ll probably be one of those fortunate couples who actually lives to see their golden wedding anniversary:
Have “soft start-up”. When initiating a conversation about something that may escalate, make sure you start off your conversation off on the right foot. Many couples are so annoyed or angry by the time they address an issue with their partner, they launch right into a list of criticisms without giving their partner the benefit of the doubt. Instead, begin your conversation off as calmly and respectfully as possible.
Bring up issues immediately. Don’t let them fester. Many couples hope that whatever is bothering them will go away if they just give it time. But the opposite usually happens. Small annoyances turn into major issues. So the next time you realize something is on your mind (even if you think it’s something small), open the lines of communication with your partner as soon as possible.
No stonewalling. In a lot of relationships, one partner likes to talk more than the other. So when big issues come up, the partner who isn’t so keen on talking may be tempted to walk away from the conversation rather than get embroiled in a big fight. But that just makes your partner feel like their feelings and their concerns aren’t valued. Instead, make an effort to sit down and talk about the issue as long as the discussion is rational and productive. If things get heated, then tell your partner that you need a breather and you’d like to come back to the conversation at a later time (just make sure you set a specific time!).
There are a lot of things to keep in mind when you’re dealing with conflict in your relationship. But focusing on these 3 tips will help you transform your “conflicts” into “discussions”. Mastering these suggestions will not only help you avoid divorce, but it will help you create a loving and committed relationship that makes you happier than you ever anticipated.