Like people, relationships are unpredictable. Some couples that constantly fight end up sticking it out for the long haul, while that pair you thought would never split shocks you with a speedy separation.
Still, there are warning signs research has linked to higher rates of divorce and breakup, says Geoffrey Greif, Ph.D., a relationship expert, professor of social work at the University of Maryland, and author of Adult Sibling Relationships. And many of these warning signs are surprising.
Read on for science-backed indicators that you and your girl might be in for a rocky ride.
YOU FIGHT DIRTY
Every couple argues, Greif says. But when your fights feature “below-the-belt” shots—that is, personal criticisms or attacks—you two are in trouble. Greif says it’s a good idea to stick with self-focused statements during fights, which tend to begin “I feel …” When your statements start with “You,” those are inherently personal and judgmental, and tend to lead to more hurtful interactions, he says.
SHE ROLLS HER EYES
It seems harmless. But if she rolls her eye when the two of you are bickering, that’s a serious red flag, shows research from John Gottman, Ph.D., at the University of Washington. Gottman is considered the doyen of relationship experts. And his research shows the presence of contempt—the emotion that underlies eye rolling—is one of the strongest predictors of discord and future separation.
YOU BICKER ABOUT MONEY
As the saying goes, if you’re not fighting, you’re not trying. But arguments about money—especially early on in a relationship—are a strong predictor of an eventual split. That holds regardless of a couple’s debt, income, or net worth, shows research from Kansas State University. The study authors say people tend to approach money based on their upbringing and values. So if you’re fighting about moolah right off the bat, that often signals deep philosophical divisions that are going to manifest in other ways down the road.
SHE’S STONE FACED IN HER CHILDHOOD PICS
Two separate studies have found people who smiled broadly in childhood photos tend to dodge divorce, while those who hardly ever smiled are more likely to break up. One of the study teams speculates that people with a naturally happy disposition may be more likely to smile in photos, and also ride out relationship rough patches. But they’re quick to add that their research is far from conclusive.
SHE HAD COLD FEET
If your girl was jittery or unsure of things before your big day, your marriage has a 1 in 5 chance of ending within four years, finds a UCLA study. Pre-wedding doubts are common: at least one person experiences them in two-thirds of all marriages, the study shows. But while men are more likely than women to feel uncertainty, it’s the woman’s doubt—not the dude’s—the predicts a spike in future divorce, the research shows. The study authors say women historically bore the burden of carrying and caring for children, and so had more to lose from a bum marriage. While that’s not always the case these days, women may still be more attuned to issues that will eventually torpedo a union.
YOUR PARENTS ARE DIVORCED
If your parents split, you and your girl are 40% more likely to get divorced than if your ’rents stayed together, shows research from Canada. The researchers say witnessing your parents divorce may embolden you to take the same route when your own relationship hits the skids. Important to note: That figure is likely dropping. If it was holding steady, divorce rates would still be climbing, when in fact they’ve leveled off at around 50 percent, according to the American Psychological Association.
ONE OF YOU IS A BIG SPENDER
If your spending habits significantly differ from your partner’s, your odds of splitting jump 45 percent, shows research from the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Again, these sorts of habits betray deeper philosophical rifts that may cause massive quakes at some point in your relationship, the authors say.
SHE MAKES MORE THAN YOU
If your wife brings home 60 percent of the bacon, your odds of divorce double, finds a German study. Blame sexism or our retrograde society, but research shows married couples who occupy “traditional” gender roles—that is, the guy earns the big bucks while his wife handles most of the domestic duties—tend to fare better than relationships in which both people work and the woman earns roughly as much or more than her hubby.
YOU GOT HITCHED IN YOUR MID-30S
For every year past age 32, your odds of divorce go up 5 percent, finds research form the University of Utah. Once you’re well into your 30s, the desire to have children may have put pressure on you both to jump into an inauspicious union, the experts speculate—though they say there are lots of explanations. More research has linked marrying young to higher divorce rates. So what’s the ideal age to get hitched? Between 25 and 32, the Utah study shows.