Contempt is the Single Greatest Predictor of Divorce…Why?
“You’re an idiot.”
“You’re fat, stupid, ugly, slob, lazy…”
“You’re ‘tired?’ Cry me a river. I’ve been with the kids all day, running around like mad to keep this house going and all you do when you come home from work is flop down on that sofa like a child and play those idiotic computer games. I don’t have time to deal with another kid – try to be more pathetic…”
“A slob like you, I’m surprised you even have a job. You’re late every morning, no wonder you rush around and wreck the bathroom. Always leaving someone else to clean up after you!”
Contempt is when you attack your partner’s sense of self by insults, name-calling, hostile humor, cynicism, ridicule, mimicking, sarcasm or mockery with the intention to insult, make the other feel despised/worthless and to psychologically abuse him/her. It may come in the form of verbal statements or non-verbal behavior through body language and tone of voice (such as sneering in disgust, eye-rolling, and curling your upper lip). Contempt puts you in a relative position of superiority and on a higher ground than your partner. In a way, you are expressing your dislike and disrespect for your partner.
In Dr. Gottman’s research, he found that couples who are contemptuous of each other are more likely to suffer from infectious illness (colds, the flu, etc.) than others, as their immune systems weaken! Contempt is fueled by long-simmering negative thoughts about the partner – which come to a head in the perpetrator attacking the accused from a position of relative superiority.
Moreover, contempt is the most serious horseman because it is the single greatest predictor of divorce and relationship failure. Couples have to realize that these types of put-downs will destroy the fondness, respect, intimacy, and admiration between them. Therefore, it must be eliminated.
How to communicate differently?
- Appreciation and Respect: Actively work on building a culture of appreciation and respect in the relationship. In true partnerships, mutual respect is essential for continued love and closeness. Respect cannot merely be felt, it must be expressed, and nurtured. Even if you disagree with your partner, you can express your position respectfully. There are many ways to support and appreciate each other. Like saying, “I am proud of you for how you handled your conflict with your boss”.
Omar: “Abeer, I am the man in this family and what I say goes!”
Abeer: “Yeah, right. You are such an idiot.”
Tarek: “I made a decision and I want you to back me up!”
Muna: “I don’t think it was the right decision. But I want you to be happy and I’ll work with you.”
- Lower your tolerance for contemptuous statements, exchanges, and behaviors.
- Shift to appreciation: The 5:1 magic Ratio was pioneered by Gottman. Through his research, he has determined that as long as there are five times as many positive interactions/feelings between partners as there are negative, the relationship is likely to be stable.
- Conscious communication: Speaking the undisputable truth and listening open-heartedly.
- Validate your partner: Let your partner know what makes sense to you about what they are saying; let them know you understand what they are feeling, see through their eyes. Validation is not the same as agreement. You’re just acknowledging that your partner has a right to his or her opinions and that you are paying attention. For example:
o Tarek: “I have thought a lot about the situation, and I expect you to back me up.”
o Muna (validating but not agreeing): “I respect the thought you’ve put into it. You and I have different concerns, so we don’t agree. But I still respect you, you can see that, can’t you?”