When even seemingly satisfying marriages come undone.
How is it that divorce can sneak up on couples who display no distress and feel satisfied in their marriage? UCLA researchers Thomas Bradbury and Justin Lavner tracked couples for 10 years and found that negative interaction patterns were, in fact, present early in the marriage. Disastrous dynamics involved displays of anger and contempt and verbal aggression, and these came to outweigh such positive factors as commitment, personality strengths, and lack of stress, they report in the Journal of Family Psychology. "Relationships might be good early on, but eventually the negative communication wears them down," says Lavner.
A variety of behaviors can undermine unions that seem stable on the surface.
Aggression. Husbands from eventually divorced pairs failed to manage their tempers. An excess of verbal aggression could spring from a mistaken belief that the relationship can withstand it.
Repression. Many couples ended up dissatisfied after not disclosing their wants and needs—sometimes in an attempt to prevent a fight. "People who are conflict-avoidant seem happy but are not addressing things that are bothering them or asking for what they need," says Susan Pease Gadoua, author of Contemplating Divorce. "They assume it might go away." Instead, undisclosed dissatisfaction can balloon into divorce.
Denial. To preserve a relationship, loved ones often brush aside problems by trying to spin them into something positive: "She nags me every day, but I admire her honesty." Eventually, Lavner suspects, the rationalization reaches a breaking point, and someone snaps.