Can Divorce Be Predicted?
Basically, and not surprisingly, it's all -- or mostly -- about communication. For one thing, it's not what conflicts or differences you have, it's how you handle them. Patty, 46, of Fairfield, Connecticut, says that she and her husband have argued (or at least she's picked fights), since the day they met 28 years ago. "We get mad, but we don't get mean," she says. Likewise, says Jane, 46, of St. Louis, of her 20-year marriage; "We don't fight much, but when we do, we fight fair." Could be one reason they've both been married so long.
For the opposite scenario, think of the good will in your relationship as a "bank account," says Clements. "Two to three little hurtful comments a day are each like a little withdrawal from that account." Over time, even minor -- if regular -- sniping, sarcasm, and invalidation of feelings can add up, often to divorce.
In -- and before -- her marriage of three years, "I didn't trust my gut that my ex-husband was lying to me [about doing drugs]," says Leslie, 38, of Fresno, California. "My response was to lash out at him, in a mean, sniping way that was corrosive." While she doesn't blame herself, she says, "Had I been less nasty, he might have been more inspired to come clean and we could have worked things out more effectively."
Another specific -- and dangerous -- type of "emotional invalidation" doesn't start with conflict. "What we find most toxic is when one partner expects the other to be happy or supportive about something, but he or she is not," says Clements. Deborah, 46, of St. Louis, recalls that from early on, her husband-to-be was not supportive. Sure enough, when they were married: "I actually started to say nice things to myself in front of my husband -- like, 'Thank you, Deborah, for getting all the groceries' -- to try to train him to praise and support me," she says.
Then there's the matter of not saying what needs to be said. For now-divorced Rhiannon, 37, of Montclair, New Jersey, the spark faded quickly -- not itself an insoluble problem, but their communication fizzled with it. "We got very boring very fast," she says. "But when I got frustrated with his marathon TV-sports watching, I just turned away."