3 Warning Signs That Predict Divorce Early in a Relationship

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This post brought to you by… Dr. Jeff Larson–Expert on premarital predictors of marital happiness.


Society today likes to pretend that it’s only after we get married (or after we’ve had kids, or after we’ve been married for 10 years, etc.) that we start to have real relationship problems, but some recent research shows that the seeds of discontent are usually sown right from the beginning of a relationship.  In fact, one study found that in ⅔ of marriages, one or both spouses had significant premarital doubts about the marriage.  Here are 3 things to be wary of in your relationship:


1. Premarital Cycling


a.k.a. Dating, then breaking up, then getting back together before marriage predicts lower marital quality and stability.  This is common in relationships, but it doesn’t mean it’s good for them.  This kind of instability early on sets a precedent for how open partners can be with each other.  i.e. “If I talk about this with him/her, he/she will get overwhelmed because last time I brought something like this up, he/she needed a break from me.  I’ll just keep it to myself.”  This is a dangerous pattern to fall into.  It’s important to feel safe and secure in a marriage for it to stay healthy and have longevity.


2. Sliding Into Marriage


Couples often have low levels of commitment and end up sliding into marriage instead of making a very conscious and clear decision to be committed to their future spouse.  This frequently happens when couples live together, but aren’t officially married yet.  The issue is that when this “sliding” occurs, there is less initial commitment and willingness to stick it out when things get tough, which is essential to any marriage.


3. Negative Communication and Emotional Exchanges


Some couples can be happy in the early years of marriage in spite of these negative patterns at first (sarcasm, criticism, disengagement, harsh jokes, etc.), but it generally predicts divorce 10 years later.  This kind of communication probably exists even when couples are just dating or engaged, but there is enough infatuation and initial excitement that it is easy to forgive these little hurts.  After 10 years of feeling belittle and criticized, though, it’s difficult to repair the emotional damage that has been done.


Of course, this is just 3 factors of many that predict marital satisfaction and stability, but we thought these three were particularly important.  If you notice any of these patterns in your relationship (whether you’re married or not), let the RELATE Assessment help you diagnose which areas you can work on together!



Written By: Dr. Jeff Larson



Lavner, J.A., Karney, B.R., & Bradbury, T.N. (2012). Do cold feet warn of trouble ahead? Premarital uncertainty and four-year marital outcomes. Journal of Family Psychology, 26, 1012-1017. DOI: 10.1037/a0029912

Galena K. Rhoades,* Scott M. Stanley, and Howard J. Markman (2010). Should I Stay or Should I Go? Predicting Dating Relationship Stability from Four Aspects of Commitment.  Journal of Family Psychology, 24.

Jeffry Jackson, Jeffry Larson, Alan Hawkins, & Garret Roundy, (in press).  Meta-Analysis of Premarital Predictors of Marital Satisfaction.

Larson, Jeffry H.; Holman, Thomas B.  Premarital Predictors of Marital Quality and Stability. Family Relations , Vol. 43, No. 2 , April 1994



12 Responses to “3 Warning Signs That Predict Divorce Early in a Relationship”

  1. Bryan

    Although these findings are interesting, they can be misleading to the general public without further knowledge on how data were gathered and what analysis was performed. What was the sample size of this study, for example? How were these factors chosen? (Linear models? Factor analysis?) Without details on how your conclusions were drawn from your references, and without sufficient cross-examination of possible lurking variables, this article may as well be considered an op ed.

    • support

      Thanks for reading, Bryan! You are more than welcome to click the links at the bottom of the post and read the original articles for yourself because they each address their limitations and needs for future studies. Just to answer your question, this particular post is a conglomeration of the results of all of the studies below. Thanks for your critical reading!

  2. 6 Signs Your Marriage is Over - and a Splash of Hope

    […] “Sliding Into Marriage” and “Premarital Cycling” are two signs your marriage is over or may be ending, according to Dr. Jeff Larson. He is a relationship expert on premarital predictors of marital happiness, and he shared these two signs of unhealthy relationships on his article 3 Warning Signs That Predict Divorce Early in a Relationship…. […]

  3. Fred Honey

    Interesting article and I think your points are probably about right. Sliding into marriage is definitely something I have seen, people who have “settled” for each other because it is easy and just get married because it is the thing to do. I’ve also seen people have kids which perhaps weren’t planned and then feel they have to get married, which often just ends in divorce a few years later.

  4. August

    Thank you, quite great article.

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    Appreciate this post.

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