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   Home  > Articles

Predicting Divorce

By Dr Scott M Stanley & Dr Howard J Markman


Our studies (and other's) show that marital failure is predictable to a surprising degree. This means that, for many couples, the seeds of divorce are present prior to marriage. Given our primary focus on the prevention of marital failure (e.g., Stanley, Markman, St. Peters & Leber, 1995), we are most interested in understanding how knowledge of prediction can lead to better interventions designed to help couples avoid the pitfalls and reduce the risks that are all to common in marriage (Markman, Stanley, & Blumberg, 1994).

The following is just a sampling of factors shown to be associated with increased risk of divorce:

  • Wives' employment and income (Greenstein, 1990)
  • Neuroticism (Kelly & Conley, 1987)
  • Premarital cohabitation (Thomson & Colella, 1992)
  • Physiological arousal prior to problem-solving discussions (Levenson & Gottman, 1985)
  • Parental divorce (Glenn & Kramer, 1987)
  • Previous divorce of husbands (Aguirre & Parr, 1982)
  • Communication positivity/negativity (Markman, 1981)
  • Religious dissimilarity (Maneker & Rankin, 1993)
  • "Conflicted" type relationship (Fowers, Montel, & Olson, 1996)
  • Not pooling finances (Kurdek, 1993)
  • Knowing one another only a short time before marriage (Kurdek, 1993)
  • Young age at time of marriage (Booth & Edwards, 1985; Martin & Bumpass, 1989)
  • Being low on conscientiousness (Kurdek, 1993)
  • A lack of support from friends and family for the marriage (Kurdek, 1991)
  • Attitude dissimilarity (Kurdek, 1993; Larson & Olson, 1989)
  • .
  • Many other dimensions that can be or have been studied could be added to this list.

While many have excellently categorized the factors associated with increased risks of marital failure (Karney & Bradbury, 1995; Kurdek, 1993; Larson & Holman, 1994), we favor a model that has very direct applicability to the work of preventing marital distress and divorce--especially premarital efforts. Essentially, the entire list of factors associated with marital failure (measured premaritally) can be roughly divided into factors that are relatively static versus factors that are relatively dynamic.

In other words, some risk factors are more changeable than others. Factors that are more static at a given point in time would include parental history of divorce, income and education levels, religiosity, religious and cultural dissimilarity, personality, and age (like other factors labeled here as being more static, age is changing or can change, but you cannot very well tell an 18 year old couple to hurry up and grow up so that their marriage has a better chance, though you might be able to convince them to wait a bit longer to evaluate their relationship).

Factors that are more dynamic would include communication ability, conflict management skill level, attitudes about commitment, expectations and beliefs, etc.

The distinction being made here is crucial for those doing premarital work in order to focus the greatest effort on the risk factors that are amenable to change (Stanley, et al., 1995). Couples and premarital or marital educators are, after all, more interested in lowering risks than simply understanding them. Couples planning marriage are less likely to modify their plans based on an appraisal of their relative risks, and are more likely to be interested in changing patterns when doing so has some promise for actually lowering their risks of marital failure.

PREP® is primarily focused on the dynamic dimensions identified in research as crucial to marital success.

Added to the prediction research, studies strongly suggest that couples can, indeed, learn skills, complete exercises, and enhance ways of thinking--prior to marriage--that significantly increase their odds of success once married. In our own research on premarital counseling, we can track the positive effects of preventive interventions years after the marriage ceremony. At the University of Denver, we are now embarking on what we believe is the largest study of premarital counseling ever conducted, funded by the National Institute of Mental Health. We hope to learn much more about risk factors for couples the reduction of marital distress and prevention of divorce by training couples prior to marriage.

While much of the research on PREP is with premarital couples, most of the strategies and concepts of PREP are based on research studies dealing with many areas of marital functioning. The strategies of PREP are applicable to the engaged, newlyweds, established and long-time couples.

Invalidation and Prediction

In this article
- Introduction
- Invalidation and Prediction
- The Foci of PREP
- Research Studies
- Brief Publication List

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- Can Government Rescue Marriages?
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- Facts About Marital Distress and Divorce
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