This Behavior is the Leading Divorce Predictor

Contempt can happen in lots of places outside of a courtroom, but one study has found it to be the leading reason behind couples who wind up in a courtroom: divorce.

husband and wife arguing with each other

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Researcher John Gottman of The Gottman Institute says contempt is the No. 1 predictor of divorce.

Here’s what The Gottman Institute says about contempt:

“Treating others with disrespect and mocking them with sarcasm are forms of contempt. So are hostile humor, name-calling, mimicking, and/or body language such as eye-rolling and sneering. In whatever form, contempt is poisonous to a relationship because it conveys disgust. It’s virtually impossible to resolve a problem when your partner is getting the message that you’re disgusted with him or her.”

Gottman’s research also found that contempt in a marriage makes people more likely to suffer from colds, flu and other infectious illnesses.

The Gottman Institute expert Mike McNulty offers these recommendations for couples who want to do all they can to avoid divorce:

  • Watch for common signs of contempt, such as rolling your eyes, sneering, or making passive-aggressive comments, and try to avoid doing them, McNulty told Woman’s Day.
  • When an issue comes up, ask yourself why the behavior bothers you, and whether you can learn to live with it. If you can’t, seek counseling to learn some coping mechanisms.
  • Instead of getting angry, listen. Allow your spouse to speak their mind and pay attention to their point of view. This helps improve patience, which can lead to more constructive conversations.
  • When complaining, don’t blame your spouse. Communicate how you feel without criticizing your spouse’s actions.

“Counseling can be kinder and cheaper than divorce,” says divorce lawyer John Griffith.

Griffith recommends that couples seek counseling first, rather than heading straight to an attorney’s office. After all, if contempt is the leading divorce indicator, it stands to reason that overcoming feelings of contempt might just be enough to make the marriage happier, he says.

“Even if the marriage ultimately isn’t salvageable, counseling prior to divorce can be beneficial to couples who choose to part ways,” Griffith says. “It’s a good way to do a gut check and learn methods of coping with your differences. That can help make a divorce less contentious.”