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Rhode Island Divorce MediationIs it possible to predict that a seemingly good relationship or marriage is headed toward failure down the road? Is there a tell-tale sign that you can look for in the first year or two of a relationship that tells you that you’re headed for trouble?

In fact, is it very possible, and a certain study has identified a way to predict this long-term trouble with considerable accuracy.

Let me share the details with you. It could be possible that your new relationship is on a downward trend and needs some serious adjustments in order to save it.

John Gottman worked as a psychology professor at The University of Washington throughout the 1990s and performed several studies related to the success and failure of romantic relationships. One of his studies included the method of videotaping conversations between couples and analyzing them for facial expressions which indicated several types of emotions, both positive and negative.

After years of following the success of these relationships and analyzing the patterns between those who remained successful and those who ended up in break-ups or divorce, he identified a key pattern of emotion observed in the couples that ended up in failure.

I won’t get into the details of his studies here, but eventually he found that he could predict with very high accuracy which relationships will fail by focusing on four key negative emotions: defensiveness, stonewalling, criticism, and contempt.

These four behaviors/emotions, according to Gottman, are the four negative behaviors that most predict long-term failure and divorce. If these four behaviors are left unchecked, they will set the relationship on a downward emotional trend that eventually leads to unmanageable stress and unhappiness.

Furthermore, he believes that the single most important emotion is contempt, or the feeling that a person or a thing is beneath consideration, worthless, or deserving scorn.

In other words, if one or both members of the relationship feels that they are “better than” the other, and behave as such, it creates enormous stress on the relationship that eventually leads to relationship failure.

So what does contempt look and feel like? Here are a few examples:

  • Eye-rolling during a disagreement
  • Calling someone’s opinion “stupid” or “irrelevant”
  • Patronizing someone as if they aren’t capable of doing something on their own
  • Insulting someone’s occupation, hobbies, or lifestyle as inferior to yours
  • Mocking someone when they don’t perform as well as you in some regard

You get the idea. You’ve certainly experienced this kind of treatment from others before, and you’re already well aware of how it feels: annoying, insulting, even infuriating.

This kind of treatment makes us very upset when it comes from others, especially if it’s from someone who is supposed to respect, love, and care for us.

The worst part of this is that it can be extremely subtle, happening only occasionally over several years. Even worse, a lot of couples dismiss this kind of treatment as “playful” and “teasing” when the reality is that it creates enormous stress on the mistreated person over time.

So what can you do to help avoid this situation before it starts?

  • Devote some time to learning how to exercise humility in everything you do. Be successful and achieve your goals, but remember that no one likes a braggart.
  • Remember that understanding is not the same thing as agreeing. During any disagreement, always take the time to understand where the other person is coming from, why they feel that they feel, and why the issue is important to them in the first place. Once you can speak on the issue from a place of empathy, this helps you resolve the conflict without insulting the other person or communicating a sense of superiority. Always remember to put yourself in the other person’s shoes before you immediately shoot down their beliefs. This applies to any conflict, not just romantic relationships.
  • Date someone with similar aspirations to yours, both professionally and personally. For example, if you’re really into fitness and health, don’t date someone who smokes. This will surely promote a sense of superiority and contempt within you.
  • Remember to be receptive to your partner’s influence. Let him teach you something. Let him improve you in some way. Grow together, not apart.
  • Make sure that your romantic partner exercises these same behaviors as well.

In my opinion, the ideal romantic situation is that both members of the relationship look up to one another in several ways. Both of you should look to the other person to improve yourself, and your life, in as many ways as possible. Together, you should always enhance each other’s mental, physical, and spiritual growth, and never feel superior, or inferior, to the other person.

You can read more about this and similar studies in Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Blink.

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