Avoiding the Number One Relationship Killer

According to researcher Matt Schnuck and psychologist Dr. John Gottman, this indicator predicts divorce between married couples with 91% accuracy. It ends marriages, engagements, friendships, and business relationships. It can’t be held or seen or touched, but it can absolutely be felt. What is this x-factor that is leading to so many relationships falling apart?

Cale Clarke did a deep dive into the research of Matt Schnuck and Dr. Gottman on a recent episode of The Cale Clarke Show to find out just what it is about this prevalent concept that can prove so deadly to people who thought they loved each other.

Billionaires and celebrities alike are familiar with the work of Dr. John Gottman. He has seemingly discovered the secret to protecting marriages in danger, and with frightening accuracy, he can almost always point to the same culprit that’s ripping apart the union of two loved ones: Contempt.

Dr. Gottman, who has been studying relationships for over fifty years, has boiled down marital issues to four key patterns that can indicate when a relationship is on the rocks. He calls these patterns the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and they are the following: criticism, contempt, stonewalling, and defensiveness. While all four can lead to the rise of breaking points within a relationship, Gottman points out contempt as the worst of the four.

Well then, what exactly is contempt? How does it manifest itself? And on the flip side of the problem, how do we avoid it or eradicate it from our relationships?

Gottman defines contempt as a feeling of superiority over someone else (morally, spiritually, personally) that can lead to a sense of disdain for that person because of their shortcomings – whether those shortcomings are imagined or real. When that contempt combines with a critical attitude or behavior, contempt is made manifest through verbal jabs and apathy. What might have once been a fruitful and loving relationship has now been tainted. Every conversation and every interaction is now more difficult because of the perpetual rift caused by contempt.

“If you express a negative toward somebody and you combine that with feeling superior to them, that’s contempt. And that can drive the relationship apart, just like a wedge,” said Cale.

As discussed on a previous episode of The Cale Clarke Show, making good decisions before God is always a good decision in mind, body, and soul. Our minds and our bodies are linked. Emotions operate in a similar fashion. According to research, bodies emanate differently-patterned heat maps when experiencing different emotions, and when someone is experiencing contempt or hatred, it shows up as intense heat in the chest and the head.

When we experience these feelings, this hot heat, and an almost uncontrollable disdain for somebody because of their decision or their mistakes, or their habitual behavior, Matt Schnuck suggests taking a step back from the situation. That doesn’t mean denying the reality of our emotions or trying to change them right away. Emotions are natural, and we have a right to react in a reasonable manner. However, we cannot let them drive our behavior. As Cale says, emotions make a fine passenger, but they cannot be allowed in the driver’s seat. Taking a step back allows us to take stock of what is making us upset.

Dr. Gottman also found that the number one behavior associated with feelings of contempt was, surprisingly enough, eye-rolling. Innocuous enough, eye-rolling can be pulled off in a light-hearted way, but according to his studies, it’s also the visual behavior most commonly found in relationships that have grown bitter.

We know what the poison is. We know what’s causing the erosion of your marriage or your friendships. But what’s the antidote? How do you put an end to the scorn and derision?

Dr. Gottman believes he has the answer and the people whose relationships he’s saved seem to agree. He says the answer to eradicating contempt lies in building and fostering a culture of appreciation and gratitude. That begins with putting your disagreement or argument aside and reminding the other person that both you and they have good qualities and that you see those in one another. And after remembering why you’re friends, or married, or in business together, thank the other person for being there for you. Thank them for the things that you admire about them, the attractive traits that they exude, and for being in your life.

Research shows that gratitude is often felt more by the person being thanked than by the person doing the thanking. Healing begets healing, and, as it says in Acts, “‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” (Acts of the Apostles 20:35) Gratitude, appreciation, and love is the answer to contempt, critical spirit, and hatred.

Tune in to The Cale Clarke Show weekdays at 5pm CT

John Hanretty serves as a Digital Media Producer for Relevant Radio®. He is a graduate of the Gupta College of Business at the University of Dallas. Besides being passionate about writing, his hobbies include drawing and digital design. You can read more of his daily articles at relevantradio.com and on the Relevant Radio® app.