Most couples experience rocky points in their marriages. Such rough patches may be the result of external stressors, such as family or work-related stress, or the underlying reason may actually have to do with the relationship itself. When it becomes clear that the reasons for arguments stem from personal reasons, like dislike or lack of respect, many couples decide it is time to rethink their marriage. Determining the source of marital tension may be crucial in addressing the problem responsibly. How can a person who finds herself experiencing growing marital tension determine whether a marriage is worth keeping?
As summarized in a recent psychology news article, some psychologists theorize that a couple can predict the success of their marriage by examining whether one trait is present during their fights: the trait of contempt. Contempt describes an attitude that something is not worthy of attention or approval. The word comes from a combination of disgust and anger. It can also manifest as a general displeasure or negative attitude toward an object or person. While contempt may be hard to describe, most people know it when they see or feel it. Once feelings of contempt seep into a marriage, the marriage may be become unsalvageable.
How Contempt Affects Relationships
The psychologist who first introduced the significance in using contempt to predict divorce developed his theory after spending nearly 20 years observing couples argue. He and his team crafted a rubric of different behaviors the couples displayed, micro-analyzed the arguments, and then followed the couples to record which couples had broken up after the study. (More on psychologist Dr. Gottman and his theory can be found on his relationship website.) One of his primary findings was that the most unsuccessful couples were much more likely to display criticism and contempt toward one another.
Contempt is particularly damaging because it communicates a feeling of disgust to the listener. This, in turn, pits the partners against each other and escalates the conflict, making feuding couples less likely to empathize with one another or negotiate in solving a problem. Contempt is further damaging because it aims to position one partner on a lower level psychologically than the other partner.
Identifying Contempt in a Relationship
Couples may be able to observe contempt in a relationship by looking to signs like the following:
- Displaying a sarcastic, biting tone of voice;
- Physical signals such as eye rolling or sneering (raising the upper lip on one side); and
- Engaging in more-than-playful mocking.
Finding prominent signs of characteristics like contempt may indicate a relationship is in significant trouble. Couples may need to work at changing communication strategies or can try to address the underlying causes for negative feelings to get the most from their marriages. When signs of contempt are already present, the partner receiving the contempt may not be able to change how the other feels. He or she can, however, set limits on how to be treated.
If You are Considering Ending your Marriage…
Choosing to end a marriage is an immensely stressful and personal decision that takes courage and resoluteness. Obviously, there is no special formula or test one can take to find the correct solution. Choosing to end a bad marriage can, though, be one of the most satisfying decisions some people ever make. If you believe that your marriage is beyond fixing and you wish to begin planning for divorce, we encourage you to speak to an experienced divorce lawyer as early in the process as possible.
At Kathryn L. Harry & Associates, P.C.,our Illinois divorce and family law attorneys can counsel you about setting up finances in a way that they will remain accessible to you and still protected from squandering throughout the pendency of divorce proceedings. We can also help you strategize about and deftly address different obstacles parties are likely to face during the process. For more information on our services to people at initial stages of the divorce process, call us at (877) 889-4515 to set up a free initial meeting.