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Destined for Divorce?
Mom with a View

Destined for Divorce?

It’s in our power to transform our marriage.


Dr. John Gottman has become famous for his ability to predict marital success by observing a couple’s interactions. He claims that he can predict with 95% accuracy whether a marriage will end in divorce within 15 years, through an in-depth analysis of the pair talking for one hour.

While I don’t dispute his findings or his ability, he seems to leave out one important factor. For today’s interaction to be a prediction of a much later divorce, the two partners in this relationship must remain completely stagnant. They must continue their destructive patterns of communication. They mustn’t change.

This runs counter to the Jewish mandate not just for marriage but for life in general.

We are obligated to constantly work on growing and changing. We need to become better both as individuals and as a marital unit. That is our job.

Our tradition teaches us that the Jewish people are not bound by “fate.” Not because there isn’t any such thing but because every choice we make changes who we are as a person, thereby changing our destiny. Every action, every word, has an impact.

Just as we are not bound by any predetermined outcome, we are not bound by Dr. Gottman’s predictions.

One new choice by one spouse can make all the difference. “I’m sorry that I haven’t been listening attentively; I’m all ears now – and anytime you need me.”

One new action by your partner can create a new marriage. “I know how much you enjoy a quiet cup of coffee in the morning. Not only will I make it for you but I will watch the kids so you can have that space – and not just today, but everyday.”

And even better – if both parties to the marriage seek counseling and commit to change, the possibilities are endless.

We all make a lot of mistakes. The Almighty has given us a big gift – the ability to do teshuvah, to repent and change. This is not a once-a-year Rosh Hashanah/Yom Kippur opportunity. This is something we can – and should – always do. We can apologize. We can ask for forgiveness. We can start afresh.

I’m very afraid that Dr. Gottman’s predictions may become self-fulfilling prophecies, that couples will despair and give up, that they will decide that it’s just not meant to be. Not only is that the worst possible outcome but it reflects a mistaken attitude.

Relationships don’t develop easily. Marriage is a lot of work. There are many (yes, many) bumps along the road. Perhaps if we expect everything to flow smoothly we give up too easily. But that would be a shame.

If our interactions are so negative as to warrant Dr. Gottman’s gloomy prediction, we can change. We can treat our spouse with greater kindness and sensitivity. We can bite our tongue when a negative comment threatens to escape (Imagine you are speaking to your boss or your child – would you dare address them like that?)

I know that Dr. Gottman’s goal is to save marriages. Perhaps this statistic is meant to be a wake-up call. But we need hope also. We can do it. Not only can we save these supposedly doomed marriages but we can turn them into something truly wonderful.

January 12, 2013

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The opinions expressed in the comment section are the personal views of the commenters. Comments are moderated, so please keep it civil.

Visitor Comments: 11

(10) Anonymous, January 19, 2013 8:30 AM


Sometimes you have to expect the terrible truth that you made the wrong decision on one of life's most important phases. Divorce as nicely as possible and move on.

(9) david, January 18, 2013 10:02 AM

Anonymous you are wrong-How can you ' realize it is worse and more damaging to stay in an unhealthy relationship '. if you have not yet experienced the horror of divorce? My experience tells me divorce is far more damaging than to stay in an unhealthy relationship

Anonymous, January 18, 2013 12:31 PM

Reply to David

Hi, David, thanks for your comment. Do you mean the horror of the process of divorce or the aftermath? And do you mean for yourself or for children involved (and if the latter, then what about if there are no children involved)? Also, it depends on how damaging the "unhealthy relationship" is b/c there are degrees; there are certain behaviors & patterns that should not be tolerated by any self-respecting neshama. Would you mind describing the horrors of divorce in more detail so that we can be more informed? (sincere question, not sarcastic or rhetorical.) Also, if people seek counseling and ask da'as Torah, then we have to trust that whatever happens is what is right, no? Thanks.

(8) Anonymous, January 18, 2013 9:27 AM

Warning about seeking counseling

My soon to be ex husband and I sought counseling. Instead of helping us fix our marriage, the counselors told us we're not a match. So he decided to end it. He gave up trying. Now we're fighting over child custody and our daughter is suffering for it. Sorry but couselors need to stop telling married couples with children they shouldn't be married! They need to start actually helping the couples to fix their marriage!

(7) Anonymous, January 18, 2013 4:29 AM

Ms Braverman, You Missed Gottman's Point

Gottman mentions that to demonstrate that he's done a lot of research and can pinpoint with a high degree of accuracy what the factors that lead to divorce. He doesn't say 95% of marriages will end in divorce ("doom and gloom"). If a researcher can predict with that sort of accuracy, he there's a good chance he has the knowledge as to what causes divorce and a good chance that he also know's what can be done to change it. Gottman outlines in great detail things that can be CHANGED to save a marriage that displays the pitfalls. An author worth reading rather than crucifying (no pun intended).

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