Lawrence E. Kincade, Ph.D., LCSW > What Leads to Divorce?


Conflicts in marriage are inevitable.  The key is to find a way to resolve conflict that does not demean or diminish your partner.  It's not fighting that's a problem, it's the way a couple fights.  These are some of the behaviors that can lead to divorce:

Harsh startup to complaints:  This often comes in the form of sarcasm.  "Well, if you did the dishes more often, you'd have a clean glass."  Often it begins with "you always....." or "you never...."  Beginning a discussion like this will almost assuredly guarantee a negative response or no response at all.  So, if you want it to end well, start it in a positive way.

Criticism:  Truthfully, we all have complaints about our partner.  Many people don't know the difference between a complaint and a criticism.  A complaint addresses a specific action you want your partner to do or not do.  For example:  "I would appreciate it if you would lock the back door (note:  this is not to be said sarcastically!)."  A criticism is more general and often includes character assassination.  For example:  "You make me so mad that you don't care enough about my safety to lock the door.  I've told you so many times, you never listen to me."

Contempt:  Contempt likely occurs when criticism gets out of control.  Cynicism prevails.  Name-calling, eye-rolling, sneering, mocking and hostility are examples of contempt.  Another name for contempt is disgust.  Contempt is often fueled by lingering negative thoughts about your partner which leads to future conflicts.  A contemptuous response might be:  "You never admit you're wrong and I'm sick of your insensitivity."

Defensiveness:  Defensiveness is a way of not taking responsibility for a behavior or problem.  It often involves making excuses.  Looking at the above example - a defensive response to the door issue might be:  "I do lock it most of the time, you just notice when it's not locked."  This type response usually results in escalating the criticism which can then turn into contempt.

Stonewalling:  Stonewalling occurs when one partner "checks out" of the conversation completely by either leaving or becoming silent.  The stonewaller won't give any kind of nonverbal or verbal feedback to his or her partner.  It's a passive way of dealing with a conflict before it becomes emotionally overwhelming, but it can lead to alienation.  If you need space or are feeling overwhelmed, let your partner know you need a break, but you'll be back to discuss it later.

Flooding:  This occurs when one becomes emotionally overloaded and reacts irrationally.  The release of adrenaline and other stress hormones cause our heart rate to increase and our thinking ability to become diminished, or impaired.  During flooding, we can't hear, think or speak clearly.  It's important for each partner to recognize ways to soothe him or herself and one another to avoid flooding.

Failed repair attempts:  Each time one partner attempts to repair the relationship and perceives failure, it may seem like a "nail in the coffin" of the relationship.  He or she may eventually give up.

Bad memories:  This happens when past history gets "rewritten" from a negative standpoint.  It's the bad memories that are remembered rather than the good times.  Often past hurts will be brought up when flooding occurs.