Here’s The Number One Reason Why So Many ‘Happy Couples’ Divorce

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Divorce is one of the hardest, most painful experiences that many people will ever go through. It’s exhausting, and can often be incredibly draining for your finances, as well. When we get married, we list out the things we will do for our spouse, in the hopes that neither of us will break the promise. But does divorce actually have anything to do with “in sickness and in health”, or “til death do us part”?

Well, maybe, but as it turns out, the major cause of divorce has less to do with the specifics (like infidelity, or financial incompatibility) and much more to do with one singular, consistent emotion in a relationship: contempt.

The general description for contempt is “the feeling that a person or a thing is beneath consideration, worthless, or deserving scorn; a disregard for something that should be taken into account.”

John Gottman, Ph.D., author of The Seven Principles For Making Marriage Work, and an internationally renowned marriage therapist, has spent over four decades studying married couples at the Gottman Institute. And the one thing he’s found? Couples who resent one another are the most likely to get divorced.

So it’s not so much what types of problems you encounter along the way, but how you’re dealing with those problems, and how you view your partner in the midst of those challenges.

Although contempt might seem like a niche emotion, one of the most common forms of physical expression is pretty well known: the rolling of eyes.

When you roll your eyes at your partner, you’re expressing contempt at the emotions they’re trying to express, rather than actually listening to them. So it follows that couples who are filled with contempt with one another probably aren’t communicating as well as they could be, and therefore aren’t sustaining a healthy, happy relationship.

The good news about all of this is that contempt can be fixed. The more intentional and open-minded you are about your communication with your partner, the better, according to Gottman Institute expert Mike McNulty, Ph.D., in conversation with Cosmopolitan.

“Partners often idealize one another and then expect so much,” he explains. The golden rule for marriage is empathy, after all

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