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This Harsh Communication Style Is The No. 1 Predictor Of Divorce

Criticism and contempt are two of four communication behaviors known as the “four horsemen,” which, according to research by psychologist John Gottman, Ph.D., are linked to higher odds of divorce.

People usually criticize someone when they’re upset about something that person has or hasn’t done. While it’s important to be able to voice complaints and needs in relationships, criticism turns an ask into an attack. According to marriage and family therapist Elizabeth Earnshaw, LMFT, you can usually tell you’re criticizing someone if you use words like “always” or “never” (e.g., “You always leave the dishes in the sink” or “You never listen to me”).

“The use of criticism in a relationship is usually due to having unmet needs. Sadly, when you wrap those unmet needs in criticism, you are even less likely to get them met by your partner,” Earnshaw writes at mbg, adding that your partner will likely get defensive rather than openly listening to your concerns.

Contempt, on the other hand, takes criticism one step further by adding a layer of condescension and cruelty. Rather than just criticizing, the goal of this type of language is to put the other person down. (For example: “Can’t you do anything right? Toddlers can follow directions better than you.”)

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