Ever catch yourself rolling your eyes at your partner or getting a little too sarcastic during a conversation? Those seemingly small behaviours are not that innocent after all.
According to renowned researcher John Gottman, contemptuous behaviour like eye rolling, sarcasm and name calling is the number one predictor of divorce.
Contempt is the number one sign, followed by criticism, defensiveness and stonewalling (emotionally withdrawing from your partner.)
Contempt is the most poisonous of all relationship killers – destroying psychological, emotional, and physical health. The Gottman Institute has developed very effective skills and tools to combat contempt in relationships.
So how do you curb contempt in your own marriage and stave off divorce? Below, experts share seven things you can do to keep contempt in check.
- Realize that delivery is everything.
“Remember, it is not what you say, but how you say it that makes all the difference. Contempt often comes in the form of name calling, snickering, sarcasm, eye rolling and long heavy sighs. Like a poison, it can erode the trust and safety in your relationship and bring your marriage to a slow death. Your goal is to be heard. You need to present your message in a way that makes this happen without doing damage to the relationship.”
- Ban the word “whatever” from your vocabulary.
“When you say ‘whatever’ to your partner, you are basically saying you are not going to listen to them. This sends them a message that whatever they are talking about is unimportant and has no merit to you. This is the last thing you want your spouse to hear. Sending messages (even indirectly through contempt) that they are not important will end a relationship pretty quickly.”
- Stay clear of sarcasm and mean-spirited jokes.
“Avoid sarcasm and comments in a rude tone of voice. Do not make jokes at the expense of your partner or make universal comments about his or her gender”
- Do not live in the past.
“Most couples start showing contempt because they have let a lot of little things build up. To avoid contempt all together, you need to stay current in your communications along the way. If you are unhappy about something, say it directly. Also, acknowledge the valid complaints your partner has about you.
- Watch your body language.
“If you find yourself rolling your eyes or smirking, it is a signal that your relationship could be headed for trouble. Try taking a break from each other if things get heated, or try focusing on positive aspects that you like about your partner.”
- Do not ever tell your spouse, “you’re overreacting.”
“When you say your S.O. is overreacting, what you are really saying is that their feelings are unimportant to you. Instead of telling your partner that they are overreacting, listen to their point of view. Try to understand where they are coming from and why they feel that way. They have those feelings for a reason.”
- If you find yourself being contemptuous, stop and take a deep breath.
“Make it your goal to become aware of what contempt is. Then find out specifically what it looks like in your marriage. When you feel the urge to go there, take a deep breath, and say ‘stop’ quietly to yourself. Find another way to make your point. Contempt is a bad habit. With work, you can break it.”