Let’s face it. Statistically speaking, you’re more likely to break up than to stay together. This isn’t news. All you need to do is scan your relationship history to find evidence of this.

The reasons relationships fail are as varied as humans are—or are they? The truth is, while every ending has its own unique story, relationship breakups fall into well-documented categories that look like this:

·      Trust issues.

·      Communication issues.

·      Differences in relationship expectations.

·      Differences in life priorities.

·      Inability of one or both partners to manage their emotions.

·      Differences in values.

That said, there is one indicator that can predict, with amazing accuracy, the ending of your relationship story.

It has to do with how you fight. But let me back up. The prediction is based on the fact that all relationships have conflict. Are you surprised? I’m not. I’m usually surprised that people are surprised by this.

Yup. True story. Every relationship has conflict. Which makes knowing how to have a fight the most important relationship skill you’ll ever acquire—Or...the most expensive skill you’ll choose not to learn—because relationship expert John Gottman can predict whether your marriage ends in divorce with 94 percent accuracy based on how you fight. And engaging in this one behavior turns out to be the strongest indicator of divorce—which is a lot more expensive than learning relationship skills.  So, without further delay here you go:

The number one predictor of whether your relationship is headed for a cliff boils down to whether or not either you or your partner treats the other with contempt.

You know contempt. It’s when you feel as though you’re better than your partner (presuming it’s you who engages in it, and for the simplicity of writing this). It’s an energy of disgust that emanates from you during fights. Maybe that disgust causes you to scream so loudly that the neighbors can hear – or maybe it seeps from your pores as you glare silently at your partner during conflict. It can also look more benign like eye-rolling or an unwillingness to validate your partner’s feelings.

I know, I know. We've all done it. We’ve all felt it. Hell, I felt it this morning when Steph and I had a fight (away from the animals’ earshot, of course). The difference is, I felt it. I didn’t express it. I know that contempt isn’t a functional emotion for relationships. It presupposes that the person experiencing it is better than the other.  And not only is that inaccurate (particularly when comparing me to Steph), it’s toxic.

About the Author

Darcy Sterling Ph.D.

Darcy Sterling, Ph.D., is Executive Director of Alternatives Counseling in New York City.

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