Ever been in the middle of a heated argument and thought: "Does this mean we're going to break up?"
If you're in a stable relationship, chances are the answer is no. But if things have been going downhill for a while and you're worried you might be headed toward splitting up, you may have started to notice some red flags in how you or your partner behave toward each other.
We spoke recently to John Gottman, a psychologist at the University of Washington and the founder of the Gottman Institute and asked him about this.
Gottman said there are two main patterns of behavior that serve as telltale signs that all is not well with a married couple. While the first pattern typically ends in an early divorce (typically just a few years after the wedding), the second one can drag on for years, ultimately resulting in a long and drawn-out breakup.
Here's Gottman on the two types of behavior that commonly end in a split:
1. The couple gets stuck in a negative cycle
"Early divorce is predicted by partners who get stuck in a negative cycle and aren't able to repair the relationship. For these couples, entering negativity is like stepping into a quicksand bog. It's easy to enter but hard to exit. You see that their repair processes — [the techniques they use to makeup after a conflict] — are failing.
"That’s what leads to early divorce: this negativity becomes all-encompassing. They check in but they don't check out. It's like the roach hotel model. There's a rapid deterioration of intimacy and friendship where they become one another's adversary instead of one another's friends."
2. The couple agrees to disagree
"With couples who divorce later, this results from people agreeing to disagree ... withdrawing from conflict. They can stay together longer, but then around midlife they start having this realization that their life is very empty.
"They're kind of like those couples that come in at dinner and don't talk to each other the entire time. We call them hostile detached couples. They can last a long time.
"In these cases, the couples generally last about 16 years after the wedding. Quite often by the time they end up divorcing they have teenage children. Especially when they have teenagers, they wind up thinking things like, "Boy when I was that age I had a lot of hope, and now I've wound up in this sort of empty marriage." So they wind up identifying with their adolescent and exiting the relationship. Oftentimes there's also an affair. And that's what ends the relationship."
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