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15 minutes to tell if you’ll end in divorce (Asiaone)

Mon, Apr 12, 2010

The Korea Herald/Asia News Network

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15 minutes to tell if you’ll end up in divorce
by Song Woong-ki
 What would you say to someone who claims he could predict whether your marriage will succeed after observing your interaction with your spouse for only 15 minutes?

Whether that’s a stretch or not, psychologist John Gottman, is pretty certain of his methodology in dissecting the mechanics of a marriage.

“Based on watching 15 minutes of a married couple’s interaction with one another, we can predict with 94 per cent accuracy who stays together and who divorces,” he said at a press conference in Seoul yesterday. “As a result, we are almost never asked to dinner from our friends.”

For a week, Gottman, together with wife Julie Schwartz Gottman, are scheduled to hold seminars with local marriage counselors and therapists, as well as run workshops with newlyweds. They are here as part of an invitation from Choi Sung-ae, a psychologist who runs a family clinic that applies the Gottman methodology with her husband Cho Byeok.

The clinic is the first in Asia to use the Gottman method according to Hainam Publishing, the publisher of the Korean-language edition of the Gottmans’ books, including “Ten Lesson to Transform Your Marriage.”

So what makes this couple credible in their work?

For one, the 68-year-old psychologist, along with his wife, has been involved in case studies of more than 3,000 couples for the past 35 years.

The two have devoted their research in helping newlyweds get out of marriage peril through counseling and workshops applying their seven principles rule.

Based on their studies, they claim the most pivotal period of a marriage for newlyweds is after their first child is born.

“We discovered that when a couple has their first baby, 67 percent experience a tragic decline in their relationship happiness and an increase in hostility between the baby’s parents in the first three years of the baby’s life,” he said.

“The hostility transfers to the baby and damages the baby’s neurological cognitive and emotional development. But there are the remaining 33 percent that are masters of this transition and we have asked ourselves what are the differences between the people who fail and those who don’t?”

Part of the Gottmans’ theory is that there are four major emotional reactions that are destructive to a marriage:

Defensiveness, stonewalling, criticism, and contempt. Among these four, they consider contempt the most damaging of them all.

Through their workshops, they have come up with ways to prevent these factors from ruining a marriage.

“We discovered that we could reverse these negative effects through workshops over two days,” he said.

“This is accomplished by four methods: one — making conflict more constructive, two — increasing friendship and intimacy between mother and father, three — honoring the father’s role, and increasing shared meaning about becoming a family.”

But let’s for a moment forget the effectiveness of their therapy.

Would their methods be applicable to a country where traditionally, Confucianism has strongly influenced every aspect of society?

“We’re just learning about these differences just now,” she said.

“We have much to learn about Korean families, so please forgive us for not knowing more, but from the scientific research we have done over the years, we know that one of the leading causes of marital strain is external stress such as work.

“Korea has undergone one of the most rapid periods of economic growth that the world has ever seen but the cost has been high and families, although strong by generations of connection, are now weakening.”

“Certainly, we have taken into account the question of compatibility of the Gottman Insitute’s methods here,” Choi said. “That is why I have been working with them to make their program accessible and compatible with local married couples.”

Recent census data in Korea has revealed worrying statistics.

According to latest figures, there has been a four-fold decrease in birthrates and a sharp spike in divorces — five times that of figures from three decades ago.

And it’s not just Korea.

“For the past 60 years we’ve seen the breakdown of the American family. Divorce rates are estimated between 60 percent and 67 percent,” Gottman said. “Children are feeling the tragic effects of these breakdowns.”

Gottman said he first began his studies on relationships and marriage with colleague Bob Levinson “to learn how to have better relationships with women.”

He is the author of several bestselling books and has been the recipient of numerous awards, including four National Institute of Mental Health Research Scientist Awards and the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy Distinguished Research Scientist Award.

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