Number 1 Reason for Relationship Breakdown

When we consider the statistics it seems you are about as likely to have your marriage fail as to have it succeed. There are many reasons for relationship problems, and even though each story is unique, there are well-documented problems that contribute to relationship break down. Couples have issues with:  

  • communication 

  •  trust

  • difficulty managing their emotions

  • differences in values, expectations, and priorities


And these are just a few of the possible problems. However, there is one indicator that can predict, with incredible accuracy, the demise of your relationship. This predictor involves either or both of you acting with a particular attitude or stance.  

We know that all relationships have conflict and that conflict is not an indication of a troubled relationship. But how you handle conflict is an indicator of either a healthy or a troubled relationship. Learning to fight fair or to disagree respectfully is a vital relationship skill and one that will not only help your marriage but all your relationships as well. 

Relationship expert, John Gottman, has discovered that he can predict, with 93% accuracy, whether your marriage will end in a divorce based on how you fight. The most reliable indicator of divorce is the demonstration of one behaviour or attitude. The number one predictor of whether your relationship is headed for disaster comes down to whether either you or your partner treat the other with contempt. Contempt is an attitude of looking down on your partner. It includes disrespect, biting sarcasm, mocking, and thinking that you are better or smarter than your partner. It sometimes is masked by the comment ‘just kidding’ or shows up as eye-rolling or nasty facial expressions like sneering. 

Gottman names four behaviours as the four horsemen of the apocalypse for relationships: criticism, defensiveness, stonewalling and contempt. Contempt is like criticism and defensiveness on steroids. It means you are looking down your nose at your partner, you show disregard for their thoughts and feeling and are spiteful and disrespectful toward them. This behaviour can be spoken scornfully under your breath or it may be venomous screams so loud the neighbours can hear. Contempt can also be non-verbal such as the refusal to acknowledge or validate your partner. 

Rather than be discouraged by noticing contempt in your interactions, decide first to reduce the expression of contempt and work toward reducing the feelings of contempt. Consider that divorce is much more expensive, both in financial and emotional terms, than any time, effort, or expense associated with learning and strengthening your relationship skills. 

Feeling contempt toward your partner can be a sign that you have allowed feelings of resentment and frustration to fester. It can be an indication that you have some work to do to clear this negative energy from your relationship. Essential skills for strengthening your relationship are learning content communication, practicing active listening and validation and learning to set, maintain, and respect healthy boundaries You also each may need to strengthen your solid sense of self. Choosing to express your feelings of contempt toward your partner, rather than process and release them, is extremely toxic to your relationship. 

Investing time and effort into the development of healthy relationship skills will help to protect your relationship from deteriorating. You can create a bright and fulfilling future together.