We always complain in failing relationships that “things just ended up that way” and that “it’s just the way things were”. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a good picture of what corrodes healthy and fulfilling relationship? John Gottman, a relationship and marriage researcher does just this work – his lab analyzes and quantifies interactions between couples and describes what mechanisms are occurring that are toxic to a marriage and what is going on that will save a marriage.

Without further adieu, it’s time to unmask this villain Scooby Doo-style:

Contempt, which is a one-two punch of relationship meltdown, combines a distinct lack of respect with pointing out mistakes and flaws of others. Gottman’s research pegged contempt as the greatest statistical predictor of divorce (and he would have gotten away with it too, if it weren’t for you meddling kids and your statistical analyses).

The provider of contempt is generally irritable and frequently overcome with anger. When something bad happens though, it is the fault of others: “Why can’t anyone do anything right?” Contemptuous people put a lot more time and energy into searching the actions of others than they do themselves. But remember what Jesus says is the second greatest commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt22:36-40). Searching and changing others before fully searching ourselves is easier, but it’s taking things out of order.

The recipient of contempt receives the messages of “I don’t matter” and “I’m bad” – neither of which can be present in a healthy and fulfilling relationship. They are made to feel guilty, shameful, and broken. This person might shy away and hide or might fight back – either way you’re going to be reacting to the attack made on you rather than acting on your wants and needs.

Contempt is toxic. When do you show contempt? Do people pester you at certain times or in certain places? Do you take the time to make things right with these people or do you push them off of you by pointing out flaws and pushing away?

Click here to see John Gottman describe contempt.