Doing Life Together

Doing Life Together

Could The Way You Start a Fight Predict Divorce?

Jenna was really mad at her husband. He promised to come home at a reasonable hour. She cooked a fabulous meal, got the kids to bed but sat waiting in the silence. Two hours after his scheduled arrival, husband Tom showed up. By the time, he walked in the door, Jenna was ready to explode. He walked into the kitchen and she let loose. How dare he not call. What a jerk! Before he could get a word out, Jenna threw down her towel and left the room. “Enjoy your very cold dinner.”


What Jenna didn’t know was that there was a major car accident on his way home. Traffic didn’t move for an hour and his cell phone was dead. But that conversation was slow to develop because the way Jenna began the argument was harsh. Did she have a right to be mad? Sure.

But would she and Tom have a sensible discussion about what happened? Probably not based on the way she began the conflict. Martial Researcher John Gottman has discovered that when a conflict begins  with what is called a harsh startup, it won’t end well. In fact, a harsh start up is a predictor of divorce.

When a partner is negative, accusatory, filled with contempt, the conflict will reflect that tone and go nowhere.

So what is a soft start up–a better way to begin?


First, don’t begin with accusation, criticism or anger.

Second, don’t assume the negative. In Tom’s case, things were out of his control. He had no way to communicate.

Third, begin with something positive like, “I’m glad you finally made it home. Everything OK?”

Fourth, talk from your point of view. “I was sitting here getting upset because I made a great dinner and got the kids to bed. I am so disappointed. What happened? I never heard from you and it is so late?”

The start up is so important that Gottman says 96% if the time it predicts the way a conflict will end–negatively. And harsh start ups are associated with relationship break ups. So next time, you are ready to attack, stop, think about what your goal is, follow the above guidelines and see if you can engage in a more positive way.



For help calming down and dealing with anger, click on the book cover, Breaking Free from Anger and Unforgiveness. 

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