The #1 Divorce Predictor

Consider this to be a follow-up to Monday's post titled Marriage can be Hard Work. This week I came across the Smart Marriages website.. the online office of "The Coalition for Marriage, Family and Couples Education". According to them "The number one predictor of divorce is the habitual avoidance of conflict." Here are a few insightful things that they say about divorce:
What's sad is the reason that we avoid conflict is because we believe it (conflict) causes divorce. It's like the cartoon where the couple explains to the marriage counselor, "We never talk anymore. We figured out that's when we do all our fighting."

In the beginning, we avoid conflict because we are in love and we believe that "staying in love" is about agreeing, about NOT fighting. We're afraid that if we disagree - or fight - we'll run our marriage off into the ditch. We believe that if we've found our soulmate, we'll agree about most things - and certainly about the important things.

Later, we avoid conflict because when we try to deal with our differences things get so out of hand and our fights so destructive and upsetting that we simply shut down. After a few bad blow-ups we become determined to avoid conflict at any cost. And, we start wondering if we married the wrong person. It shouldn't be this hard.
I think that I really understand this phenomenon. I think that it takes a tremendous amount of something.. call it love I guess.. to talk about the hard stuff.. to delve into our frustrations with each other. I think that, over time, our frustrations only get deeper and usually morph into something darker. It is like an infection - if left untreated it gets worse and eventually drastic measures are needed to save the body.

Here is what Smart Marriages say about successful couples:
  • They know how to discuss their differences in ways that actually strengthen their relationship and improve intimacy.
  • They know how to contain their disagreements – how to keep them from spilling over and contaminating the rest of their relationship. 
  • They learn how to manage the disagreements and live life "around" them – to love in spite of their areas of difference, and to develop understanding and empathy for
    their partner's positions. 
  • They learn to dance in spite of their differences. They gain comfort in knowing they know their partner, know which areas they disagree on and must learn to manage.
I like the conclusion that they reach:
The divorce courts have it all wrong. "Irreconcilable differences" – like a bad knee or a chronic back – are not a reason to divorce. Instead, they are part of every good marriage.
I think that they are right about conflict avoidance being a predictor of divorce. I know that in my own life our marital relationship has only gotten stronger when we deal with the really difficult issues. It is hard but so worthwhile. I also think that they are spot on about differences being a part of a good marriage. I mean really.. lol.. who would want to be married to an opposite sex version of themselves?


  1. Hi Bob, I would like to suggest that differences can be a positive aspect of any marriage if one has a worldview that embraces that differences are a normal part of life/any relationship or differences can be a good thing because they "pontentially" contribute to the overall experience of each persons life. I use the word potentially because not all differences are the same. What do we do with the differences that reflect our core values? partner believes the Bible "is" the word of God and takes everything literally, while the other has doubts? is a pacifist while the other supported the invasion of Iraq...One is a laissez-faire capitalist while the other has socialist leanings...etc. etc. etc. While one might say you shouldn't marry a person who does not share your core values to begin with what does one do when peoples values change years down the road? I am not trying to be difficult here but what I am describing is more common to happen than most people may realize. I am also not suggesting that people should get divorces over "fundamental" core suggesting for consideration that dealing with differences can and often does challenges us to the core of our being. I don't have any answers and failed to rise up to my own challenge personally but would like to suggest that we as individuals, a society, and the church "need" to take seriously this critically important challenge that we all will eventually face in our families, marriages, work, churches, our relationships. Thanks for bringing up the subject Bob...and...sorry to go on about this but this is something I have wrestled with "alot" over the past ten years and it still haunts my soul.

  2. Very good point. I think communication in general is a huge factor, that combined with unwarranted expectations about ones spouse can easily lead to divorce.

  3. Thanks so much for that great comment Bill. It is always easy to generalize in a blog post about things like this but often, as you indicated, the workings out of those generalizations are not as straightforward as they might seem.

    In my own life I have failed the challenge to love and many times have cowered in my insecurities.. more true about my relationships with other family members than with my wife. I have also realized that my core values have greatly changed.. I was once a raving fundie (just ask my kids) and now I see many things less black and white.

    I think that everything changes over time and it is a challenge to change with the changes.. and it is especially difficult to adjust to the changes when they involve the ones we care for the most. And sometimes we can just lack the ability or courage to have the difficult conversations. I am starting to ramble.

    Thanks again for your insight Bill!

  4. Bill and Bob, what insightful comments. I know that just celebrating 49 years of marriage this week ~~ We have had to work through many many difficult differences, opinions, and likes and dislikes. Marriage is hard work, but the satisfaction of working it out, is the glue that has keep our marriage strong.
    Good post Bob...

  5. Congratulations Wanda!...Bob, the ability to adapt/change "when necessary or needful" in a relationship is an underrated "needed" quality in my also very challenging because both secular/political and religious leaning, often well meaning, fellow pilgrims, more often than not, paint those who don't share their perspective, as the enemy, and thus compromise, finding common ground, or deferring is near very frustrating. Somehow, in my opinion we need to get to the point where we are able to understand and accept the fact, that we are all in this journey of life together. That doesn't mean we ignore or simply agree to just get along but it does imply that we "all" work as hard as we can to find creative ways to love each other and do what is best for the common good of everyone, not just our particular tribe or self interests.

  6. P.S. I meant to say secular/political/religious "fundamentalist" leaning fellow pilgrims. I felt I needed to qualify this because I believe religious and secular leaning "fundamentalists are "prone" to demonize the those who don't see the world as they do, thus, presenting a unique challenge especially in interpersonal relationships.

  7. As Wanda said, Marriage is hard work. It definitely is work and one doesn't finish the job and then everything is great. Its an ongoing process. Hubby and I are coming up on 47 years and are living proof of constantly working through things. Not perfect by a long shot but good just the same. Listening with the heart and learning to really talk to each other are key factors. I have to keep reminding myself that we don't always see things the same way or always agree. it definitely keeps me on my toes.
    This is a terrific article. I love the quote " They learn to dance inspite of their differences."

  8. Wow what great comments! Small wonder though.. Wanda and Photowannabe have almost 100 years of marital experience :)

    I do agree with Bill about the demonization some religious folks are prone to.. really hard when a person criticizes their spouse with religious talk.

  9. This is really true of any relationship (since I can't speak from the standpoint of marriage). Knowing how to discuss difference and resolve conflict can make it or break it with friendships too. Good stuff as always, K-Bob!

  10. Irreconcilable differences

    I get it after all what are they going to say? He's cheating and not going to say it in court.

    But it's a sound statement of relationships.

    Good one Bob



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