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  May 8, 2000

New Book to Help Couples Predict Risk of Divorce

You're getting ready for your wedding day. The flowers are selected, the caterers have planned the hors d'oeuvres, and the honeymoon cruise is booked. But how sure are you that the marriage will last?

Jack Chinsky, professor emeritus of psychology, is developing a proactive approach to marital preparation that evaluates couples' emotional compatibility and helps predict the risk of divorce. Chinsky spoke recently about his research and his forthcoming book at a seminar, "Marital Preparation: What to Do Before You Say 'I Do,'" at the Dodd Center, in a program sponsored by Natchaug Hospital.

"Marriage is the only legal relationship that is supposed to be based on emotional terms," said Chinsky. Other cultures have different views of marriage. Historically, the French aristocracy conducted marriages as a business contract agreement, for example, sharing not love but possessions, he said. Love and marriage is a recent American myth.

Chinsky said the public does not take research about marriage seriously enough, yet divorce can have a devastating effect on children and adults' psychological and physical health. Most Americans resist research on divorce and marriage, he said, because they perceive these issues as a personal choice that should not be rationally analyzed.

Marriage statistics in America suggest Chinsky's research is appropriate. In 1994, for example, there were 2,362,000 marriages and 1,191,000 divorces, according to census figures. On their first marriage, partners have a 50 percent chance of success and on second marriages, a 50 to 60 percent chance.

Chinsky stressed that divorcees should not be regarded as "bad" people. He advocates a "no fault approach to marital dissolution," in which neither partner is seen as "wrong" or "right."

A licensed psychologist in Manchester, Chinsky is working on a new book that outlines strategies for choosing the right marriage partner and creating a secure family environment. Before retiring in 1997, he taught psychology at the University for 29 years, specializing in relationship and community psychology issues.

He says the differing ways people react to stress is a major cause of marital breakdown. Couples who have incompatible patterns of dealing with stress create a downward spiral in the relationship. Childhood experiences where reaction to stress is learned are crucial in determining how individuals react to stress. For the sake of emotional survival, Chinsky said, some people learn to speak out and others learn to stop communicating in a stressful situation.

Chinsky said when one person calls the other "wrong" during a conflict, it insults the other's core values. He likened the situation to two people standing on different colored stripes on a beach ball. One partner says their reality is "blue" while the other insists it is "orange," yet both are speaking the truth as they see it.

A marriage partner's family relationships are another factor that may predict marital breakdown, said Chinsky. If a romantic partner will not speak with his or her own family members, for example, that is a warning sign, as problems within a partner's family are often repeated in marital relationships.

Chinsky is now refining a questionnaire that assesses marital readiness between couples. The variables he uses to assess a couple's compatibility are: the ability to take the perspective of others, awareness of others, emotional expression, and emotional self-awareness.

Since retiring from the University, Chinsky has also applied his research in the corporate world as a consultant.

Marisha Chinsky