In “Predicting Divorce from the Oral History Interview” (1992), Dr. John Gottman and his colleagues found that the Marital Disappointment/Disillusionment dimension was the most powerful single predictor of divorce. This dimension attempts to capture how depressed, hopeless, or defeated a spouse may sound when talking about his or her marriage (or about marriage in general). In the interview, people who scored high in Disappointment/Disillusionment sometimes said that they didn’t know what makes a marriage work because all they only experienced bad ones.
While other couples were less blunt about their disappointment with marriage, they instead sounded disappointed or sad about specific aspects of their relationship. Some couples mentioned that they had unrealistic expectations about what marriage would be like. A number of participants in the study actually attempted to advise the interviewer about marriage, revealing their regret and displeasure with their own union.
Both husbands’ and wives’ presence or lack of “we-ness” during an oral history interview is a strong indicator of whether a couple will divorce or not. The husbands and wives who are low on this dimension may not feel connected or intimate with their spouses. These couples are probably living parallel lives, in the same home, but never really deeply joining together any more. In extreme cases, spouses may blame each other for problems in their marriage to escape responsibility or to avoid talking about the problem as a couple.
Many of those couples who score low in the “we-ness” dimension also admit to not being able to communicate with their spouse about their problems because they have such different viewpoints or perceptions. Many of these spouses will appear lonely or isolated because they are not able to receive support from their partners or from others (or feel that way). Sometimes one member of the couple being interviewed will score higher on “we-ness,” while the other emphasizes differences and separation—a state of affairs implying lack of communication and mutual understanding dangerous to the future of the relationship.
At one time or another, everyone experiences phases in their relationships where they feel disappointed or disillusioned. This is normal. The key to addressing these feelings is communication and a mutual desire to make an effort to manage these problems, as well as the knowledge necessary to address the problems in a healthy, productive way.