0

This One Thing is the Biggest Predictor of Divorce

If a couple can revive their fondness and admiration for each other, they are more likely to approach conflict resolution as a team.

Share this post:

This one thing is the biggest predictor of divorce. You may know Dr. John Gottman as “the guy that can predict divorce with over 90% accuracy.” His life’s work on marital stability and divorce prediction is world-renowned—featured in the #1 bestseller Blink by Malcolm Gladwell.

After watching thousands of couples argue in his lab, he was able to identify specific negative communication patterns that predict divorce. He called them The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, and they are criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling.

Contempt is the most destructive of The Four Horsemen because it conveys, “I’m better than you. I don’t respect you.” It’s so destructive, in fact, that couples who are contemptuous of each other are more likely to suffer from infectious illness than couples who are not contemptuous of each other. The target of contempt is made to feel despised and worthless.

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 his book Why Marriages Succeed or Fail, Dr. John Gottman notes:

When contempt begins to overwhelm your relationship you tend to forget entirely your partner’s positive qualities, at least while you’re feeling upset. You can’t remember a single positive quality or act. This immediate decay of admiration is an important reason why contempt ought to be banned from marital interactions.

Contempt erodes the bond that holds a couple securely together. It’s impossible to build connection when your relationship is deprived of respect. The existence of contempt is the biggest predictor of divorce.

What does contempt look like?

Let me introduce you to a couple from my practice. After five years together, Chris and Mark (names changed for anonymity) find their marriage in a tailspin. Chris feels dismissed, shamed, and blamed by Mark.

“I can’t believe you think it’s okay to speak to me the way you do. The things you say to me make me feel awful. It’s like you constantly think I’m a dumbass,” Chris says in my office.

“What? I’m just stating facts,” justifies Mark while rolling his eyes.

“Well, the things you say are hurtful. What’s the point?” asks Chris.

“I’m constantly disappointed by things you say and do. Your logic doesn’t make sense to me,” says Mark. His unwillingness to be influenced or take responsibility for himself is unshakeable.

“If I spoke to you in the same way, you would lose your mind,” says Chris.

“Whatever,” Mark mumbles.

Chris has stopped being affectionate towards Mark, and Mark mostly ignores his complaints at this point. Contempt has totally taken over their relationship.

The antidote to contempt

Here’s the good news. Dr. Gottman’s ability to predict divorce is contingent on behaviors not changing over time. You can reverse a pattern of contempt in your relationship before it’s too late. The antidote lies in building fondness and admiration.

Dr. Gottman discovered that the best way to measure fondness and admiration is to ask couples about their past. How did they meet? What were their first impressions of each other?

If a relationship is in crisis, partners are unlikely to elicit much praise by talking about the current state of affairs. Talking about the happy events of the past, however, helps many couples reconnect.

If a couple can revive their fondness and admiration for each other, they are more likely to approach conflict resolution as a team, and the growth of their sense of “we-ness” will keep them as connected as they felt when they first met.

I witness a glimmer of hope when I ask couples how they fell in love. Partners talk about how attractive they thought their partner was. How funny they were. How nervous and excited they felt around each other.

Despite all the pain and negative feelings that have accumulated over years, there is still an ember of friendship. The key is to fan that ember back into flames, and the best way to do this is by creating a culture of appreciation and respect in the relationship.

Dr. Gottman teaches couples to look at their partner through rose-colored glasses. Instead of trying to catch them doing something wrong, catch them doing something right and appreciate them for it. Even the little things. I like how you did your hair today. Thank you for getting my favorite ice cream. I appreciate you vacuuming without me asking you to.

Identifying contempt is the first step towards getting your relationship back on track. If you and your partner need a little extra help, you may benefit from couples counseling.


If want to build a deeply meaningful relationship full of trust and intimacy, then subscribe below to receive our blog posts directly to your inbox:

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Share this post:

Eva Van Prooyen is a psychotherapist, educator, and relationship specialist based in Santa Barbara, CA. She has a private practice working with couples and individuals, and blends warmth, humor, and interpersonal neurobiology to help make positive and enlivening changes in their relationships. Eva aims to demystify how partners get into trouble in their relationship and decode the way out so they can get back to the good stuff. www.evavp.com

Recommended products

Original price was: $119.00.Current price is: $79.00.

Research-based Foundations for a Lifetime of Love.  The Gottman Relationship Coach is an inspiring and educational multimedia experience designed to enhance the well-being of relationships. Participants will be guided through research-based tools and communication skills that can transform relationships—all based on the popular Gottman Method. The first program, “How to Make Your Relationship Work”, is now available and includes:

  • The Gottman Method and How to Make Your Relationship Work
  • How do we predict the future of a relationship?
  • How to build a Sound Relationship House
  • What to do when the destructive Four Horsemen enter your relationship

“Buy Now” will take you to GOTTMAN CONNECT to purchase and view this product.

$30.00

Improve your relationship in 30 days! Backed by over 50 years of research, the 30 Days to a Better Relationship challenge will help you reconnect with your partner and bring more positivity into your relationship. The tools and exercises, delivered once a day for 30 days by email, build on one another and take five minutes or less to complete.

 

Original price was: $199.00.Current price is: $149.00.

Now on Sale! Drs. John and Julie Gottman’s Art & Science of Love couples workshop is available online for you and your partner to take together from the comfort of your own home.

You and your partner will learn how to foster respect, affection, and closeness in your relationship. You will build and share a deeper connection with each other. You’ll learn how to keep conflict discussions calm, how to break through conflicted gridlock, and how to strengthen and maintain the gains in your relationship

Related posts

Couple not talking where one person is stonewalling.

What Is the Difference Between Stonewalling and Gaslighting?

Laura Silverstein

Read More

Divorce when you have children

Divorce is the Most Important Story You’ll Ever Tell Your Child

Kerry Lusignan

Your story will become their story, so write it well. ...

Read More

reconnect and nurture your relationship

Creating and Sustaining a Culture of Appreciation in Difficult Times

Terry Gaspard

How you appreciate each other is a buffer for life's stressors. ...

Read More

Brene Brown Atlas of the Heart

Brené Brown’s Atlas of the Heart: Defensiveness and Flooding

The Gottman Institute

From her latest book, Brené discusses these core Gottman Method concepts ...

Read More

Two Good Reasons to Save Your Marriage

The Gottman Institute

You'd be surprised what a good relationship can do for you ...

Read More

photo of couple arguing

‘It’s Not My Fault!’: Why Defensiveness is Damaging

Cheryl Fraser

Don’t get defensive. Do this instead. ...

Read More

Subscribe to Gottman Love Notes

Sign up and start your relationship transformation. Subscribe and get the latest on relationships, therapy, and much more from the experts. Includes a free download and access to special pricing on Gottman products every month