Relationship researcher John Gottman found that contempt is a key indicator a relationship will have problems and eventually fail. In fact, his research has found it to be the number one predictor of divorce. What is contempt? Gestures such as eye-rolling or sneering when you are talking, or sharing things in a negative or sarcastic tone can be signs. Mocking your partner, name-calling, and displays of disrespect fall into this category as well.

Contempt makes it really difficult for couples to have disagreements in a constructive way. Every couple will disagree at times, but you can disagree without fighting. In fact, disagreeing can be constructive if you work together. Here are some tips for disagreeing without fighting:

  1. Know when you are “ready” to talk about your disagreement.  Sometimes you might have to cool down a little bit before you are ready for a  discussion. Wait until you are ready to listen. Develop a plan for postponing discussions if one or both of you are too upset.
  2. Avoid distractions. It is difficult to really listen if you are on your phone, watching television, or doing something else. Try to give your full attention to the discussion instead of multi-tasking.  If you do not avoid distractions, that could communicate to your partner that you don’t care about his or her point of view.
  3. Do not show contempt. Do not name-call. Avoid eye-rolling and watch your tone of voice. Stick to the topic at hand instead of making personal attacks. Take turns in the discussion, listen carefully to each other, and work to understand one another’s point of view.
  4. Avoid bringing things into the discussion that do not directly affect the disagreement you are having. This means not going back to old fights or events, especially if they are not directly related to the current disagreement.

Want more resources? Consider attending a Married and Loving It class or other event to help strengthen your relationship. For more information, contact your local installation’s Family Advocacy Program.