The way couples deal with arguments can determine whether their relationships will last.
Disagreements with your significant other are bound to come up regardless of how long you’ve been together. Though that’s completely normal, John Gottman, a psychologist at the University of Washington and the founder of the Gottman Institute, says the events that unfold after that are what really matter.
During an argument, do you listen to your partner while they’re speaking? Are you too busy thinking of things to say in defense? Are you attacking your partner? Do you ever think to yourself, “How dumb does a person have to be to not know that?”
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If that last question has ever occurred to you during one or more of your disagreements, then you are probably showing signs of contempt for your partner. Contempt is a toxic blend of both anger and disgust that’s worse than simply being frustrated or upset with a significant other. Having contempt for someone means that you see the person as beneath you rather than on an equal level. According to Gottman, “Contempt is the kiss of death.”
Contempt, coupled with negative behaviors of criticism, defensiveness, and stonewalling, is so detrimental to relationships that Gottman and University of California at Berkeley psychologist Robert Levenson say they can predict divorce among couples who exhibit those signs with 93% accuracy.
The percentage was found after conducting a 14-year study of 79 couples living in the U.S. Midwest. Throughout the span of the 2002 study, 21 couples filed for divorced. Couples who exhibit this negative behavior have what is termed the superiority complex.
The superiority complex is an exaggerated feeling of being better than others. In relationships, this type of behavior may make it difficult for a person to empathize with their partner or see a situation from a different perspective. It also makes it less likely that the person with contempt will see their significant other’s opinions as valid.
However, recognizing these signs within a relationship is a good thing. It’s the first step to being more aware of how you deal with conflicts and to make efforts to avoid this type of behavior. The end results will be a better and improved relationship that increases your chances of staying together.