Study Finds Personalities Can Predict Divorce


If you're seeking divorce advice in Pasadena, experts are now saying it probably wasn't your spouse's lack of communication skills that got you here. It was probably their personality. A new study published in the Journal of Family Psychology suggests a partner's pre-existing personality has more to do with a breakup than chemistry, parenthood or how a couple communicates.

Study authors UCLA psychologist Thomas Bradbury and graduate student Justin Lavner sampled 136 couples, beginning within six months of their weddings. The couples were tracked for 15 years and participated in a series of laboratory exercises including written surveys. Naturally, every couple reported to be happy and satisfied with their marriages at the start of the study. But 21 couples, or 15 percent of the group, divorced over the course of the decade. The authors looked at various factors like personality, problem solving skills, stress, verbal aggression, emotional responses, parenthood status and support behaviors to see if they could predict which couples would stay married and which ones would get divorced. Surprisingly, having children didn't predict divorce, and neither did career. Instead, Lavner and Bradbury found that personality types and the way that personality affected communication was the most significant link. Even marriages that appeared to be perfect on the outside could fall apart due to a negative personality, the study found.

"Low-distress marriages that eventuated in divorce were characterized by the display of more anger and contempt and by more negative skills (e.g., disagreement, blame, invalidation) during laboratory-based discussions of important relationship difficulties," the study, which was published last week, says. If finances, career and health are positive, a negative personality can be largely ignored. When things get bad, however, "the bottom drops out quickly," Bradbury says. Often times, Bradbury theorizes, couples are "masking" when they report that everything in their marriage is fine even though a negative personality could be slowly killing the relationship.

"Our hunch is that being negative in general erodes the quality of the bond couples have," he notes. "It's who you are as a person."