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Another celebrity couple decides to split.

If you haven’t heard, Heidi Klum and Seal announced their decision to separate for “irreconcilable differences” after seven years of marriage involving four young children. Heidi Klum told reporters that she and Seal had grown apart. Honestly, I was sad to hear this but not surprised given the timing of the breakup. We can predict these type of divorces from long term research data on couples.

What was not a surprise was the timing of the divorce. According to martial researchers, Gottman and Levenson, the most critical periods for divorce to occur are at the seven year mark and when the oldest child in the family reaches age 14 (may be related to a low point in martial satisfaction in terms of life course).

Heidi and Seal are at that 7 year mark where more than half of all divorces occur.

When we pick apart the data that came from these longitudinal studies, we find some interesting factors that predict divorce and may be operating in the Heidi -Seal marriage.

1) Couples who are negative during conflict during those first seven years, are more likely to divorce.

2) Couples who are disengaged and lack positive emotions in conflict discussions and day to day connecting, are more likely to divorce in later years.

These two findings help us understand why some marriages grow apart. Usually these couples have experienced problems for six years and finally cannot contend with the negativity and emotional distance. In fact, failed relationships are very influenced by the way  partners dialogue over conflict. Here are 5 points to keep in mind:

1) 96% of the time, the way a discussion begins, predicts how it will end. And interestingly the research shows that when the wife starts the conflict in a harsh way, it doesn’t go well.

2) The path to divorce is clearly documented–criticism, defensiveness, contempt and then stonewalling. This is the road to growing apart.

3) If one partner cannot repair the damage with conflict, the other feels flooded and pulls away.

4) Divorce becomes a path when partners recall the past in a negative way.

5) Partners who cannot calm down during conflict and soothe themselves have relationship problems that often lead to emotional distance–a predictor of divorce.

So maybe what we learn from this recent celebrity separation is that the seven year itch is real; That couples must attend to the way they dialogue around conflict; That staying positive in your relationship is critical; That repairing damage is necessary: And that growing apart can be prevented with couple counseling when partners are willing to work on issues.

 

For marital help, check out my book I Married You, Not Your Family (and nine other myths)

 

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