Baffled by your spouse’s request for divorce…did not see it coming? Dr. John Gottman, a foremost expert on couples studies from the University of Washington with twenty years of research under his belt, concludes that there is a way to predict divorce. In fact, based on his studies, the best predictor of divorce is when one or both partners show contempt in the relationship.
Communication between couples can be uplifting or really bring you down. Contempt, the flip-side of respect, is often expressed by negative judgement, criticism, sarcasm toward another individual – in this case, you or your spouse, or both. There are four major types of communication which, intentionally or unintentionally, reveal contempt, which are warning signs in a relationship.
Using “you” language directives in statements such as “you are…not good enough” and “you should…pay attention” are directives that convey negative judgement or criticism. Most people do not like being judged or told what to do, so these statements easily arouse defensiveness and resentment. Better to stick with the old gold standard “I” messages we learned growing up.
Universal statements such as “you never…follow through” and “you always…forget”, are expressions that generalize a person’s character or behavior in a negative way. The speaker is trapped in the mindset that the listener is doomed to error and the recipient of the criticism is actually discouraged from making changes.
The ‘tough on person, soft on issue” communication, takes the undesirable behavior out of the equation and directly attacks the person instead. The preferred, “I need your help today” turns into “You are so lazy”. The use of “you” statements and universals get tangled up in the mix, and the recipient’s resentment and hurt soars.
Finally, the last straw and predictor of a split, is invalidating your partners emotions. Couples can easily spot the feelings of their partner, but if the marriage is unraveling our response to our partners emotions, whether positive or negative, may be to discount what they’re feeling by belittling, minimizing, ignoring or judging. For example, “you’re blowing this way out of proportion” is a common lament or “I don’t care – you dont know what you’re talking about” dismisses a partner’s concerns outright. Once invalidated, a person tends to throw up barriers leading to further breakdowns in communication.
The #1 predictor of divorce is contempt in communication. If you or your spouse is trapped in a cycle of negative talk, it may be a sign of trouble. The good news is that as long as there is a willingness to change between partners, improvements can be learned quickly and applied immediately.
Source: Psychology Today, “The #1 Predictor of Divorce (and How to Prevent It)”, Preston Ni, M.S.B.A. in Communication Success, March 3, 2013