According to UCLA psychologist, Thomas Bradbury and graduate student Justin Lavner, there are some measures that may in fact predict the likely success or failure of a marriage. Bradbury and Lavner conducted a study of 136 couples. They followed them for 10 years beginning at 6 months post marriage. At the start of the study all of the couples reported being very happy, as would be expected of newlyweds. In the end, 15% or 21 couples were divorced. So the researchers wondered, if these happy couples ended their marriages, then was there hope for any union to remain intact?
Given the national statistics on divorce; that number was not surprising, and I would even suggest that the study itself may have had some impact on the outcome. Without the study, I suspect that the number would have been higher. People tend to work harder when they are being watched, and even if the study participants were queried only yearly, the awareness of their role in the study may have affected their behavior to some extent.
In reality, when I see couples in my practice who are considering divorce, almost without exception, the problems that are current were present at the outset of the relationship. From a therapeutic standpoint predicating the success of a marriage, while not an exact science, is sometimes all too easy. The study results were in keeping with my own experiences in practice.
It was not life events that caused these couples to divorce, but how they dealt with those events. Factors such as parenthood or financial hardship did not cause couples to split. This is an argument, often made before me by couples who are convinced that, “if things had only been different,” the marriage would have survived. It turns out that personality style is much more relevant as it pertains to marital longevity.
The marriages that ended in divorce consisted of couples who frequently displayed anger, were critical of one another, and were prone to blaming. Interestingly, verbally aggressive husbands were likely to have their marriage end in divorce. Even though these traits were all present early in the relationship, the couples had reported being happy. It seems these early signs may have just been seeds that later sprouted to reveal personality styles not suitable for couple hood. In the early blissful days, the researchers speculated, when money and health were strong these personality traits were masked. At the first sign of distress they quickly became revealed.
It was determined, that in the end it isn’t really communication style that determines the success of a marriage, but the ability to remain positive in general. A negative personality, or someone always seeing the glass half empty, is more likely to wear away at the intimacy and quality of any relationship.