How to avoid the leading cause of failed marriages, according to science

How to avoid the leading cause of failed marriages, according to science

But what is it exactly? No, it’s not cheating. But it does start with a C. Read on to find out more

According to one of the world’s foremost marriage researchers, Dr. John Gottman, the #1 predictor of failed marriages is CONTEMPT.

After four decades of research, Gottman who also wrote a book entitled The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work found a clear pattern in marriages that ended in separation/divorce.

It's normal for couples to experience disagreements. Our spouses will possess quirks and make choices

Has your partner ever done anything that you felt negatively about? Have you rolled your eyes or become embarrassed by something they did? These little instances may become cause for concern as they can easily evolve into deep-seated contempt.

When allow yourself to reach this point, without keeping these negative feelings in check, that's when it becomes toxic to your relationship.

All couples encounter problems but it's how they handle these that matter. They can either choose to face these with either kindness or contempt.

"Partners who do not handle discussions of these problems well are at the most risk of divorce," says Gottman Institute expert, Mike Mcnulty, Ph. D. 

Watch out for the four negative patterns of communication, find out what they are on the next page.

The four negative patterns of communication are: Criticism, Contempt, Stonewalling, and Defensiveness

All these lead to flooding which, during a heated argument, causes physiological responses such as accelerated heart rate and blood pressure, tense muscles, profuse sweating, and stomach churning.

Have you ever felt this upset?

Mcnulty explains that it's best to keep silent until you are both calm. "In this state, partners cannot take in new information and they lose their senses of humour and creativity," he says. "All of these factors make discussing the important ongoing problems totally unworkable."

But even if these types of arguments are becoming more frequent, don't panic.

 "Relationships die by ice rather than fire," says McNulty. "Some couples eventually stop trying to dialogue. They find working on key conflicts to be too difficult or painful. They give up. They grow more distant, and live more like roommates than spouses. In the end, emotional disengagement is truly the ultimate sign of a relationship headed towards divorce. If you're both still arguing you haven't yet reached the point of surrender."

Next page: How to recognise if contempt is brewing

Despite this being an emotional state, it can manifest itself through the simplest physical gestures.

"Besides the eye roll, another sign is the lifting of the upper lip to make a sneer," says McNulty. "It's an overall attitude of disgust at one's partner and/or a sense of superiority."

"For example, when discussing how to keep their home [tidy], one partner may say to the other, 'In my family, we cared more about our house.' The unspoken ending to that sentence is, '…than your family did.' The implication is: 'My family is superior to yours.'" shares McNulty. 

He also goes on to warn that perfectionists often fall into this trap.

Next page: How to overcome the leading cause of failed marriages

Trading in Contempt for Contentment

Don't take contempt for granted. Know the signs and act quickly, even if you don't feel like it.

1. Know the no-nos

For instance, if you find yourself sneering, rolling your eyes, and/or making passive-aggressive comments, this should alert that contempt is creeping into your relationship, however slow and subtle it is.

2. Manage expectations

"Partners often idealise one another, and then expect so much," explains McNulty. A helpful tip would be to consistently acknowledge that your spouse is an individual with their own opinions and needs. Maintain harmony by agreeing to disagree.

3. Get to know yourself

What makes you tick and what ticks you off.

When your spouse does something that upsets you, stop and think instead of reacting on impulse. Why does it bother you? Can you live with it? Pick and choose your battles. Develop coping mechanisms to improve yourself as a person.

4. Challenge yourself to be open

Listen and be truly accepting of your partner's point of view. "This helps partners be more patient when they dialogue," says McNulty.

5. Complain but don't blame

When voicing out your own feelings remember to be kind and don't point fingers. Phrase them in such a way that it doesn't necessarily feel like criticism.

"These shifts in behaviour are fairly simple but really do make a difference," promises McNulty.

Is your heart filling up with contempt or contentment?

If you have any insights, questions or comments regarding the topic, please share them in our Comment box below.

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Written by

Bianchi Mendoza

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