A few weeks ago, fellow therapist Tina Gray-Siebers wrote a very good post about some predictors of divorce. The predictors Tina discussed are criticism, defensiveness, stonewalling, and contempt. One of those is the most harmful of all. It is contempt.
Contempt is the single most corrosive behavior in a couple’s relationship, according to Dr. John Gottman of The Gottman Institute. Gottman’s research is clear that in a marriage, contempt is the number one predictor of divorce.
Dr. Gottman explains that “When we communicate with contempt, we are truly mean.” He continues that “In whatever form, contempt is poisonous to a relationship because it conveys disgust and superiority, especially moral, ethical, or characterological.”
So what do we mean by contempt? These are some examples of contemptuous behavior that I see frequently when couples come for counseling:
- Hostile humor
Was Maya Angelou, a well-known poet, singer, memoirist, and civil rights activist, speaking about contempt in these powerful everyday words? “Words are things, I’m convinced. You must be careful about the words you use or the words you allow to be used in your home. I think they get on the walls. They get in your wallpaper, they get in your rugs and your upholstery and your clothes, and finally into you.”
Please don’t let contempt reign in your relationship with your partner. Avoiding all contempt, and learning better communication, will strengthen your relationship’s bond, and minimize your chances of divorce or breakup.
Next time, I’ll help you learn some better communication skill to do just that. I’ll talk about a much better way to communicate in your marriage or relationship. Until then . . .