Feb. 17, 2003 -- If you want to know whether a couple will split up or stay together, observe the way they fight, TV talk show host Dr. Phil McGraw said.
McGraw, who spent four years appearing weekly on The Oprah Winfrey Show is now the host of his own hot new show, Dr. Phil.
The TV psychologist isn't shy about his his ability to pinpoint relationships in trouble. He says that he can tell with 90 percent accuracy whether a married couple is going to divorce within five years based solely on the way they end a fight, and that fighting style is a clear way that couples "absolutely seal their fate."
"It's not whether you fight or not, but how you fight,"McGraw said on Good Morning America. "The No. 1 question I would ask is how do they end their fight?"
One couple featured in an upcoming Dr. Phil show allowed a camera to be placed in their home for days at a time. After viewing the video, McGraw said that they were headed for divorce if things didn't change. Whether they were arguing about clothes, money, family or any topic they did it in the same manner each time, he said.
Real and Relevant
"It appeared to me that you could take any subject, and you wouldn't even break stride," McGraw told the couple. "Isn't it true that when you're fighting about everything, you are fighting about nothing?"
The woman agreed.
His advice: Keep it real and keep it relevant. Fighting can be a great tension release, and good for a relationship, if done properly. That means sticking to the present and not bringing up old grudges.
"Fight about what really matters to you," McGraw said.
Often one partner will disguise what the issue really is. For instance, a husband who is upset about not getting enough sex might say that the problem is something else.
"He is not getting the sex he wants, so he feels rejected and hurt," McGraw said. "That is too dangerous to talk about because his ego can get damaged. So he talks about tricycles in the driveway, too much money spent."
Another piece of advice: keep your fighting private. Couples shouldn't fight in front of the children, or talk to their friends at work about the fighting.
Set Time Limits
Fighting couples should set a time limit, so that both know that once it's over, it's over and they can move on to something else.
Men, especially are reluctant to talk things out, he said.
"If you set a time limit and say, 'we're going to talk about this for 30 minutes and you're going to shut up and I'm going to shut up and we're going to do something else,' That helps because they know it is not an all-day sucker," McGraw said.
After the battle, he says that the couple should end the fight with dignity. Allow for a gracious retreat without one person doing a character assassination on the other. If you win the fight, do so graciously, McGraw said.
After the fight, the subject should not be brought up again.
The show will do a follow-up with the fighting couple and see whether things have improved.
Another issue that McGraw takes on in an upcoming Dr. Phil show is cheating, which he says has reached "epidemic proportions in both men and women," though it's hard to say what the statistics are since cheaters are also liars.
On the show, he speaks to one woman who dates married men. The woman blames the men's wives for letting it happen, and allowing her to tempt them away.
"It is much easier to date a married male," the woman said on Dr. Phil. "I don't go looking for these men. They naturally present themselves."
If you ask men why they cheat, they often say that their wives don't understand them, but McGraw said that the wives are not the ones who started the problem.
"It's not the wife's problem," McGraw said. "No way, no how. The husband makes a conscious choice … Can you stop them and come back from it? You can. You can."
The problem with the affair is that if you look outside the relationship to fix it that relationship has taken a bad turn.
"You have to get them to turn back into the relationship and say, this is a problem we have," McGraw said. "It is not you or me. It is a we problem."
On a lighter note, McGraw says reality shows, such as Joe Millionaire and The Bachelorette are far from reality. Despite their premises, they don't provide much insight into modern romance.
"You don't learn anything about relationships unless you make a list of what not to do," McGraw said. "Those are not reality shows. Those are fantasy shows. I mean, 25 women after some secret millionaire, flying around in private jets? Betty in Idaho doesn't get it."