The first step toward improving or enhancing your marriage is to understand what happens when relationships fail. This has been well documented by Dr. John Gottman’s extensive research into couples that were not able to save their marriages. Learning about the failures can prevent your relationship from making the same mistakes – or rescue it if it already has.

In The 7 Principles for Making Marriage Work, Dr. John Gottman lists the 6 things that predict divorce. His ability to predict divorce is based in part on his analysis of the 130 newlywed couples who were observed at his “Love Lab” apartment at the University of Washington. Among other things, he asked these couples to spend fifteen minutes in the lab trying to resolve an ongoing disagreement they were having while he videotaped them. As they spoke, sensors attached to their bodies gauged their stress levels based on various measurements of their circulatory system. This is what he found.

1.  Harsh Startup

The most obvious indicator that a conflict discussion (and marriage) is not going to go well is the way it begins. When a discussion leads off with criticism and/or sarcasm (a form on contempt), it has begun with a “harsh startup.” The research shows that if your discussion begins with a harsh startup, it will inevitably end on a negative note. Statistics tell the story: 96% of the time, you can predict the outcome of a conversation based on the first three minutes of the interaction.

2. The Four Horsemen

Certain kinds of negativity, if allowed to run rampant, are so lethal to a relationship that we call them the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Usually these four horsemen clip-clop into the heart of a marriage in the following order: criticism, contempt, defensiveness, stonewalling. Read more about The Four Horsemen and their antidotes here.

3. Flooding

Flooding means that your partner’s negativity – whether in the guise of criticism or contempt or even defensiveness – is so overwhelming, and so sudden, that it leaves you shell-shocked. A marriage’s meltdown can be predicted, then, by habitual harsh startup and frequent flooding brought on by the relentless presence of the four horsemen during disagreements. Although each of these factors alone can predict a divorce, they usually coexist in an unhappy marriage. Read more about flooding here.

4. Body Language

When Dr. Gottman monitored couples for bodily changes during a conflict discussion, he could see just how physically distressing flooding was. One of the most apparent of these physical reactions is that the heart speeds up – pounding away at more than 100 beats per minute – even as high as 165. Hormonal changes occur, too, including the secretion of adrenaline. Blood pressure also mounts. The physical sensations of feeling flooded make it virtually impossible to have a productive, problem-solving discussion.

5. Failed Repair Attempts

It takes time for the four horsemen and flooding that comes in their wake to overrun a marriage. And yet, divorce can so often be predicted by listening to a single conversation. How can this be? The answer is that by analyzing any disagreement a couple has, you get a good sense of the pattern they tend to follow. A crucial part of that pattern is whether their repair attempts succeed or fail. Repair attempts are efforts the couple makes to deescalate the tension during a discussion. The failure of these attempts is an accurate marker for an unhappy future. Read more about repair attempts here.

6. Bad Memories

When Dr. Gottman interviews couples, he asks them about the history of their relationship. In a happy marriage, couples tend to look back on their early days fondly. They remember how positive they felt early on, how excited they were when they met, and how much admiration they had for each other. When they talk about the tough times they’ve had, they glorify the struggles they’ve been through, drawing strength from the adversity they weathered together. Conduct your own Oral History Interview here.


The Marriage Minute is a new email newsletter from The Gottman Institute that will improve your marriage in 60 seconds or less. Over 40 years of research with thousands of couples has proven a simple fact: small things often can create big changes over time. Got a minute? Sign up below.


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The 6 Things That Predict Divorce
Michael Fulwiler

Michael Fulwiler is the Editor-in-Chief of The Gottman Relationship Blog and Director of Marketing for The Gottman Institute. A proud University of Washington graduate, Michael is an avid fan of love, live music, and Seattle sports teams.

  • Tom Todro

    My. Gottman is spot on in his theory. I am in the final phase of a much overdue divorce. We saw two different marriage counselors. One specifically used Mr. Gottman’s approach, everyone of his predictors existed in our marriage. My wife Judy refused to take any of this information seriously, and was only interested in the counselor “fixing me”.

    This a fantastic program and I truly believe this is a great systematic approach to identify and deal with the issues, that are negatively impacting your marriage.

    In fact, it helped me to realize what the issues were in my marriage. Judy lead my to believe thru constant hates criticism, threats, complaints, with holding affection, and blaming me for everything. This program helped me realize that she and our marriage were totally beyond repair. Judy totally denied any of these 4 horseman traits.
    After the second counsolor “fired us as clients” and told us to get divorced I realized that there was nothing I could do to salvage our marriage of over thirty years.

    My best decision regarding our relationship. Although the divorce process is stressful, it is nothing compared to being married to Judy, and having all 4 horseman alive and well in my home, and marriage. Truthfully, my home became anything but a sanctuary. Even my children were so hurt by her toxic mouth, foul language and demoralizing comments. Truly an unfit mother. I have no one to blame for making such a bad choice of a wife and for letting go on for so long! I did my best to raise the children, and tried to work thru these issues.

    Take Mr. Gottman’s approach seriously, and if you both work at it, I believe you will be rewarded with a great marriage.

    • Tk

      How is everything now? Did she ever come to realize her faults or no?

    • Tonce Light

      If it such a great program why didn’t it save your marriage?

    • If it such a great program why didn’t it save your marriage? Or was it you who failed?

      • Artemis

        Tonce what the bleep is wrong with you? You are acting exactly like the abusive spouse whom Tom left, acting like it’s all Tom’s fault or somesuch. Tom specifically said that it was great for identifying what was wrong with his marriage, BUT that his wife refused to accept any of it as true, and only wanted a therapist to ‘fix’ him. The problem in this case wasn’t Tom, and it wasn’t the program (Gottman has an excellent reputation; I’ve read some of his stuff and have nothing but respect for him), it was HIS SPOUSE.

  • Friendly Face

    So Tom…. Just noticing that all of your comments were about “her” faults, and none of yours. Isn’t that covered in this? In my understanding it’s all about self-awareness, and not pointing the finger at your spouse.
    So unlike the poster just above me, I would ask this:
    How is everything now? Did you ever come to realize your own faults or no?

  • Heard it all before

    Tom Todro (true name?) response makes me wonder what the other side of the story is…who lets an “unfit mother” raise their kids for over 30 years?? By whose standards was she unfit? This remark could be considered slander unless there is proof otherwise. Also, what does he hope to accomplish my airing such specific information about a 30 plus years failed marriage –hidden agenda? Every one of the predictors existed in the marriage? Only by her?? His remarks themselves exhibit the 1st 3 traits of the 4 horsemen so I doubt he is faultless in the failure of the marriage….get a clue buddy…

  • Mithan

    Because his wife may have been a crazy bitch.

  • Lagertha

    My husband and I have been married for about 7 years now. We were happily married with three kids, a boy and two girls. few months ago, I started to notice some strange behavior from him and a few weeks later I found out that my husband is seeing someone. He started coming home late from work, he hardly care about me or the kids anymore, Sometimes he goes out and doesn’t even come back home. I did all I could to rectify this problem, but all to no avail. I became very worried and needed help. As I was browsing through the internet one day, I came across a website that suggested that there is a priest called priest kubera can help solve marital problems, restore broken relationships and so on. So, I felt I should give him a try. he did a spell for me. my husband came to me and apologized for the wrongs he did and promise never to do it again. I and my family are living together happily again.This is his email hindulordkubera@yahoo.com

    .

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