Newlyweds given guide to odds of happy marriage

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The Independent Online

Newlyweds can take a test to show with nearly 90 per cent accuracy whether they are destined for a long and happy marriage or an acrimonious divorce in four to six years, say American scientists.

Research in the Journal of Family Psychology shows early marriages can be given "chance of survival" scores out of 10, based on how they discuss the history of their relationship, courtship, philosophy towards marriage and how parents' marriages compare to theirs.

Psychologists from the University of Washington developed the "relationship test" to determine why some marriages flourish and others end in divorce. They can predict with 87 percent accuracy which newlywed couples will remain married and which will divorce four to six years later. The test is 81 per cent accurate predicting which marriages will survive after seven to nine years.

Being able to answer instantly questions such as, "What first attracted you to your partner?" with flattering descriptions about their personality and appearance, or finishing each other's sentences are a good grounding for a successful marriage.

Couples who argue about the history of their relationship, or who can remember only how hard it was to get together, are on dangerous ground. "What is amazing is that this tool works so strongly in predicting relationships," said Dr Sybil Carrere, a research scientist at the University of Washington and co-author of the study.

In Britain, more than one-third of marriages, representing 55,000 couples, end within the six years. "When trying to predict a rare event such as divorce, the goal is to correctly identify those marriages that will result in divorce because of the cost of being wrong," said Dr Carrere.

"If we predict some couples appear to be on the road to divorce, when in fact their marriages remain stable, there is less chance of harm and every opportunity that marital intervention might enhance the relationship."

British relationship experts said the test could do more harm than good. Julia Cole, a spokeswoman for Relate, the marriage counselling service and author of a forthcoming book, Make Love work for You, said a "psychological tarot card" could be damaging.

"It leaves no room for couples to grow in their relationship and people cannot possibly know how they will deal with one partner becoming sick, or winning £1m. Being told within six months that you are likely to divorce could be very destructive."

The test is based on work by Professor John Gottmann, a professor of psychology who developed the Oral History Interview. But this new "relationship tool" focuses on the way people answer questions, rather than on what they say. "How people talk, not the content, is the key," said Dr Kim Buehlman, of the University of Washington and co-author of the study.

"People want to code the content, but you need to get under the content to measure marital bond. The coding system focuses on the positive or negative nature of what the spouses recall and how they refer to their partner."

Dr Carrere added: "There is a pattern that emerges in the happiest and the least happy marriages.

"The happiest couples are speaking almost in one voice because they are so tuned into each other's wants and desires. With the unhappiest couples there is no symmetry. There is no respect for each other."

The researchers said couples need to learn to work at being friends within their relationships, despite pressures of work and children.