What Predicts Divorce? It’s About Influence

The Gottman Research On Accepting Influence

Feeling heard is a huge predictor of relationship stability

Most people familiar with the Drs. John and Julie’s Gottman research on divorce prediction and prevention are likely to have heard of the Four Horsemen. These are the pervasive negative and destructive interactions that are known to predict divorce and relationship dissatisfaction. However, there is much more to the story on those predictors.

In a previous three part blog series, Relationships Busters We Don’t Talk Enough About, I discuss other research findings that provides us with a blueprint of what to avoid, or how to better manage those risk factors. In Part 2 of the series I discuss Accepting Influence, which focuses on the question, do partners feel heard and understood, even if the other person disagrees?

I wanted to revisit Accepting Influence, because I think this is the key to avoiding the Four Horsemen, and may even be the single biggest predictor of relationship stability since it becomes a stepping stone to avoid the Four Horsemen, especially Contempt. I would encourage you to read that brief article where I provide specific examples of accepting influence and not accepting influence.

John Gottman’s research found that in heterosexual relationships, escalation of negativity by husbands predicted divorce, which turned out to be an index of the husband’s refusal to accept influence. In a longitudinal study of 130 nonviolent newlywed couples , men who did not accept influence, divorce could be predicted with 80% accuracy. Interestingly, it didn’t work the other way, most women accepted influence and accepting influence did not predict anything. While I don’t have research data to support the idea that there may be less evidence today of the gender divide found in the original research, I am sure it is safe to state that both partners accepting influence is important in any relationship, including relationships with non-binary gender fluidity and identification.

Accepting influence simply means acknowledging your partner’s thoughts, feelings, and needs – Without judgement

Key Skill: Cultivate curiosity about your partner’s thoughts and feelings

How Do You Season Your Conversations?

The powerful impact of feeling understood is found in its effect in relationships of creating positivity, diffusing escalating conflict, increasing trust, and avoiding the inevitable rodeo found in the Four Horsemen once interactions escalate to that point.

Dr. John Gottman talks about accepting influence with the metaphor of seasoning a conversation with either salt or pepper. I am adding cayenne, because I love spicy hot food, and it’s another good metaphor to include. Admittedly, when I first heard him use this metaphor, it took me a moment to catch the implications and the meaning. It goes something like this:

Imagine you are having a conversation with your partner and that salt represents all the ways you can say “yes”, and pepper represents all the ways you say “no”. Let’s and cayenne as all the ways you can heat up the conversation through blame, defensiveness, stonewalling and contempt. Now ask yourself:

“Do I sprinkle the conversation with salt, pepper, or cayenne?”

The goal is to try to find ways to say yes to your partner and season the conversation with positivity, acceptance, and gentleness (salt). You can disagree, have a different perspective, think differently, and still communicate accepting influence by acknowledging your partner’s position, thoughts, and feelings.

Take time with your partner to talk about accepting influence.

Try adding these ingredients to the conversation recipe:

  • Share with each other how you know when you feel listened to
  • Agree that it is okay to think and feel differently from each other and to respect differences
  • Share with each how family of origin styles either reinforced accepting differences of opinion as an okay thing, or whether it was more like, “my way or the highway”
  • BONUS INGREDIENT: Ask each other when it is you feel the closest in the relationship – then accept that influence and make it a part of the relationship ingredient for success.

Happy Cooking

Scroll to Top