Research on the breakup patterns of dating couples might suggest how married couples can stop a divorce.
The research tells us that there are 4 breakup patterns in dating relationships, and breaking these destructive patterns can teach us how to stop a divorce in marriage.
The lead was Researcher Dr. Brian Gabriel Ogolsky. He is the Director of Graduate Studies, and an Associate Professor of Human Development and Family Studies at The University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign. I’ve written about his fantastic research in an earlier post.
The four types of dating couples include:
Dr. Ogolsky’s ongoing research examines how relational partners maintain healthy romantic relationships across the life course.
His work has the potential to deeply inform science-based couples therapy and promote new public policy initiatives that will enhance family dynamics.
Get rid of the drama. Emotional dysregulation is a relationship killer. If you’re addicted to heavy drama with lots of ups and downs and wild swings in your commitment, you’re often going to do things separately and tend to focus on complaints instead of compliments with your partner.
Attachment science helps us to understand how to work with these couples in science-based couples therapy. Research tells us that these drama-saturated couples are twice as likely to break up as any of the others that I’m about to discuss. With these couples, we find poor boundaries, problematic personality disorders, emotional abuse, depression, and problems with affect dysregulation.
It’s also here that we will find the most challenging of attachment styles; Avoidant Attachment and Anxious Attachment. Anxious Attachment, in particular, is prone to emotional dysregulation. On the other hand, Avoidant Attachment is known to elicit intense emotional reactions from frustrated partners regardless of their attachment style.
Staying emotionally regulated while your partner is particularly annoying, unfair, selfish, (fill in the blank) is an essential relational skill set.
Dr. Ogolsky had a lot to say about high-drama couples;
“These couples have a lot of ups and downs, and their commitment swings wildly. They tend to make decisions based on negative events that are occurring in the relationship or on discouraging things that they’re thinking about the relationship, and those things are likely to chip away at their commitment.” Dr. Brian Ogolsky
Partner-focused couples comprise about around one-third of the study sample. Dr. Ogolsky reports that they are more resilient than the high-drama couples, and were much more likely to stay together.
Partner-focused couples displayed a high degree of thoughtful behavior. They were careful and mindful of the impact that their behavior had on their partners. It’s easy to avoid divorce when your focus on your partner rarely wavers.
Dr. Ogolsky said:
“These partners are very involved with each other and dependent on each other, and they use what’s happening in their relationship to advance their commitment to deeper levels. People in these couples had the highest levels of conscientiousness, which suggests that they are very careful and thoughtful about the way they approach their relationship choices.”
Some couples are more conflict-prone. They may not hit the dramatic lows of the problem-saturated high-drama couples. But they’ll argue about petty issues at the drop of a hat.
Couples that were full of conflict in the breakup bootcamp study were about 12% of the study sample. These couples also struggle with self-regulation.
“These couples operate in a tension between conflict that pushes them apart and passionate attraction that pulls them back together. This kind of love may not be sustainable in the long term–you’d go crazy if you had 30 to 50 years of mind-bending passion. Partners may change from one group to another over time.” Dr. Brian Ogolsky
Excessive ongoing conflict, even with passionate reconciliations, is hard on the nervous system. Self-regulation and co-regulation is an essential skill for long-term relationship survival. It’s hard to stop a divorce if you’re in constant conflict.
Socially-involved couples are the remaining 19% of the study subjects, and like the conscientious partner-focused couples, they had excellent relationships.
What made these couples particularly resilient was their shared and extensive social network.
It’s often overlooked that the context of a relationship has a profound influence on its chance for success. If friends and family offer support and encouragement, the couple has a much higher chance to survive and thrive.
One of the best ways to stop a divorce is to have a large family and friendship network rooting for you.
Unlike Romeo and Juliet, the socially-involved couples had a deep bench of friends offering support and encouragement. These couples are a sort of anti-Romeo and Juliet.
They enjoy a mutually shared wealth of harmonious relationships with their friends and families. Deep abiding social connections are an essential source of relational strength.
Couples that lack social supports have a hard time getting into the game of building a resilient, intentional family.
Recently some new research is pointing toward the importance of family as the essential motivator in human behavior.
This is an emerging cross-cultural fact. A large cross-cultural research project just confirmed that family bonds are powerful motivating forces. It found that people who are focused on the quality and maintenance of their families and long-term family bonds are happier and more resilient in their relationships. That seems to be congruent with what Dr.Olgasky discovered about socially-involved couples.
“Ideally long-term relationships should be predicated on friendship-based love. And having mutual friends makes people in these couples feel closer and more committed. Naturally, couples can move between the categories over time as their relationship matures.” Dr. Brian Ogolsky
The winners stop a divorce lean into their partner, and keep their needs in mind. It’s also essential to develop a careful appreciation for your partners’ family of origin and friendship network.
This emotional investment might offer you a wealth of support during the tough time-outs and daily stresses of a committed relationship.
No one said it was easy. Success is never certain…and failure may never be final. Don’t give up. The research says that you can fine-tune and improve your relational game over time.
If you focus on avoiding needless drama and conflict and cultivate an appreciation for the network of friends and family that are rooting for you both, you have a far greater chance of success.
Daniel is a Marriage and Family Therapist. He currently sees couples at Couples Therapy Inc. in Boston, Massachusetts, three seasons in Cummington (at the foothills of the Berkshires...) and in Miami during joint retreats with his wife, Dr. Kathy McMahon. He uses EFT, Gottman Method, Solution-focused and the Developmental Model in his approaches.
We schedule three double sessions with you in total. You complete an extensive online relationship questionnaire. In that final meeting, we spend almost two hours with you explaining, from a science perspective what's working in your relationship, what's not, and how to fix it.
It's all done online, either week-by-week or over a weekend.