Body Language:How is it Possible to Predict a Divorce in Just 5 Minutes?

Last month I was asked to review some video footage for a rather significant court case in Arkansas involving alleged sexual abuse. I will be called as an expert witness to an upcoming trial, and my observations and comments admitted as evidence. There is always so much more being communicated that what most people detect consciously, and this “missing” information can often reveal very critical information. Authorities were amazed with what I had detected that they had missed when they had watched the video previously. It is amazing, to me, too, what often goes so easily unnoticed.

One service offered by my colleague and I, is one that is often uncomfortable for people to think about. This service involves looking for the things that are now obvious to us, but that can be missed for decades by those invloved. My partner, Dr. Clare Albright, a Ph.D. licensed psychologist, and I review video footage and/or in live face to face settings, of couples who are at the proverbial “crossroads” and who are seeking input about the quality of their marriage or relationship.

Our work is based on that of John Gottman and Dr. Paul Ekman. Gottman studied marriages for 16 years, seeking to determine the reason why some marriages work, and why some fail. Gottman’s research was of particular interest, to me, as I have been married and divorced twice, and, like most people, I certainly didn’t enter either one with the intention of ever divorcing.

What Gottman discovered allowed him to do something that stunned and shocked other therapists around the world. After spending just 5 minutes with a couple, Gottman could predict, with 91% accuracy, which couples would be divorced. Gottman’s success was no accident; it came from uncovering the difference that makes the difference. And, his findings allow others to predict, with the same accuracy, who will make it, and who won’t. Others can, that is, provided they have the proper background and training in analyzing these target areas.

Some of Gottman’s work borrowed heavily from the research of Dr. Paul Ekman. If you have ever watched the Fox Series “Lie to Me”, you probably already know that the character Dr. Cal Lightman was modeled after the genius of Paul Ekman. Ekman turned the world of nonverbal communication upside down many years ago with his discovery of “micro-expressions”; facial expressions that flash too quickly for the untrained eye to ever see, but expressions that reveal a tremendous amount of information for those trained to see them.

Gottman narrowed the signs that a marriage is set on a course to fail, down to 6 very accurate and critical points:

1. Harsh Start up: When the discussions start “Harsh” with someone using an accusatory or negative tone, etc. the conversation will usually end just as harshly

2. The Four Horsemen:

Criticism: when “complaints” turn to “criticisms”

Contempt: Sarcasm, cynicism, eye rolling, mocking, hurtful humor (These escalate conflict)

Defensiveness: When one partner shows contempt, the other becomes defensive. This is a way of blaming.

Stonewalling: When a conflict builds, one or both people are usually flooded with emotions. “Stonewalling” is refusing to respond, to talk or communicate. They withdraw. This usually makes the other partner even angrier. (BTW, men are more likely to Stonewall than women, although both can.)

3. Flooding: “Flooding” occurs when the negativity of your partner has become so overwhelming that you become what Gottman refers to as “Shell Shocked”. When “flooded” many people will “stone wall for “protection from these overwhelming feelings. While this emotional disengagement may very well make them feel better, initially, it can also increase the negativity from the other partner and lead to divorce.

4. Body Language: Once you have become “flooded” with emotion, your entire physiology changes radically, and your ability to pay attention or listen to your partner is seriously impaired. (Contempt, for example, is easy to spot. It is the only uni-lateral emotion, in terms of facial expressions, and for the trained eye, it can be detected even when someone is trying to mask or hide their feelings)

5. Failed Repair Attempts: When one person’s attempts to repair the relationship fail, things are looking bleak. No matter how badly one person may want things to work out, if the other is flooded, they will withdraw from repair attempts such as counseling, for example, and most communication is impaired.

6. Bad Memories: When the couple recalls the memories of the relationship-overall- negatively and with bad feelings. When couples are angry, they will often re-create their memories of the past, and actually view what was actually a good period in the past, as one that was very negative and miserable.

Why do people use this service?:

The average wedding in Central Florida costs $20,000. A divorce can be that amount many times over for those with significant assets to split. And yet, even if you don’t like the idea of divorce, or if it collides with your chosen religious faith or views, men and women of virtually all faiths will divorce today, next week, next month, next year etc. Human beings will simply not reside in a miserable environment-long term- without doing something to ease their mental and emotional pain. If they choose to stay in these conditions, their health will suffer; mental, emotional and physical health. In short, like it or not, people will continue to divorce.

If a divorce is imminent, many people are finding that they don’t want to spend tens of thousands of dollars, in many cases, going to marriage counseling and therapy, only to fail, to make measurable progress, and then wind up spending tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars in a long drawn out divorce.

With that being said, we are convinced that some marriages can be saved, providing that both desire this outcome with the same level of intensity and commitment, and are willing to do whatever it takes with the guidance of a quality therapist or counselor with a proven track record. (Most people choose a therapist like they choose laundry detergent; they look for a “bargain”.) As you might imagine, the number of couples where this scenario is present-with both of them willing to go all out and do anything suggested- is pretty slim when compared to the couples where only one is willing. One is the same as “none” when it comes to the success of relationship repair.

What we do:

Dr. Albright and I will do our assessment one of two ways. The first option is to send us video footage that will be to our exact specifications. It will involve having the couple sitting next to one another, being asked questions by a third member, and invited to debate a few topics. The second option is for us to conduct this session ourselves, live asking the questions and doing the filming.

The video footage will be analysed by both me and Dr. Albright, using both the “naked eye” and sophisticated audio and video software to further analyze the video. After our analysis, we will provide a detailed report.

The cost for this service isn’t cheap, but it’s certainly less expensive that a divorce, or a year or two of fruitless counseling before a divorce.

This service is not for everyone. Some do not like the idea that the quality of their relationship can be determined from so little information. We can appreciate that. However, at the end of the day, in over 9 of 10 couples, it can be.

© Copyright 2010-Vincent Harris-All Rights Reserved.

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