One telltale sign: How to spot divorce long before it occurs

Renowned marriage therapists have revealed what they believe is the ultimate relationship killer. The good news is, there are ways

Renowned marriage therapists have revealed what they believe is the ultimate relationship killer. The good news is, there are ways to address it and get your marriage back on track!

According to Dr Mike McNulty, a marriage expert at the The Gottman Institute, contempt has the most detrimental affect on our relationships.

Contempt can be defined as “the feeling that a person is worthless or beneath consideration”. In a relationship, this can translate to eye-rolling, sneering or passive-aggressive comments.

The Gottman Institute says that whilst it’s normal for couples to disagree, relationships become unhealthy when one partner or another gains “contempt”.

“All relationships involve ongoing, perpetual problems that will resurface”, Dr McNulty explains. “Partners who do not handle discussions of these problems well are at the most risk of divorce”.

“They become angry and use what we call the ‘four horsemen of the apocalypse’ or negative patterns of communication… Criticism, contempt, stonewalling, and defensiveness”.

Relationships ultimately break down when contempt gives way to distance. “Some couples eventually stop trying to dialogue. They find working on key conflicts to be too difficult or painful”, explains Dr McNulty.

“They give up. They grow more distant, and live more like roommates than spouses. In the end, emotional disengagement is truly the ultimate sign of a relationship headed towards divorce”.

The good news is that contempt can be addressed, and your marriage can ultimately be renewed. Dr McNulty advises the following steps:

1. Watch for the “telltale signs” of contempt: These can include eye-rolling, sneering, passive-aggression, comparative comments or casual put-downs.

2. Make your expectations clear: As partners, remind each other that you are still two different people, with distinct wants and needs within one relationship.

3. Agree to disagree: You and your partner will not agree on everything, so compromise is the key to harmony.

4. Be reflective: Ask yourself why certain aspects of your partner’s behaviours bother you. Counselling can sometimes help you and your partner communicate about these issues.

5. Seek to understand, rather than seeking to be understood: Try to empathise and see why your partner behaves a certain way, and then see if you can change your behaviour in response.

“Relationships die by ice rather than fire”, adds Dr McNulty. “If you’re both still arguing you haven’t yet reached the point of surrender”.


Was “contempt” a part of your divorce or relationship breakdown? Do you worry about emotional aspects of your marriage or relationship?