Contempt – A Major Predictor of Divorce

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Recent trends show divorce rates are increasing all over the world, with marriages becoming less popular. While divorce rates have increased 250 per cent since 1960 across the world, 6959 marriages ended in divorce in Singapore in 2020 alone.

A recent report from the MSF (Ministry of Social and Family Development) found that compared to couples married for a long time, the recently wed break up earlier.

While financial issues, adultery, lack of intimacy, busy schedules, and domestic violence are some of the top reasons for divorce in Singapore, contempt in marriage is often the starting point for a break-up.

What is contempt in marriage?

American psychologist, Dr John Gottman, defines contempt in marriage as the “most corrosive behaviour” encountered in a relationship.

This can involve;

  • treating the partner with disdain,
  • disrespect and indulging in sarcasm,
  • name-calling, or other forms of contemptuous behaviour.

“Contempt is the result of combining anger and disgust”

While contempt leads to destructive behaviour, it is the number one predictor of relationship failures.

Whether you are at the receiving end or are unconsciously being contemptuous towards your partner, knowing the signs of contempt is the first step to addressing them. Addressing the root cause of contempt is the key to preventing the negative mental, emotional and physical consequences.

Six Signs of Contempt in Marriage

Not communicating

Given the busy schedules of working couples, it may not be possible to answer every call or text during the day. But if you are ignoring your spouse’s messages or requests for updates constantly, they may be feeling abandoned. If you ignore your partner’s messages and calls altogether without even bothering to give an explanation, it is a sign of contempt.


Regularly being distracted when your spouse is speaking or acting like you have better things to do can breed contempt. If you constantly ignore your spouse and are not actively listening to them, it signals you do not care about them and what they have to say.

Lack of attention

Over time, you may have stopped giving your time and attention to your spouse or are not handing out expressions of appreciation anymore to your spouse. Lack of appreciation and attention can make your partner stop being attentive or affectionate, setting up a cycle of destructive behaviours.

Toxic words

Toxic words act like poison to kill relationships. Derogatory words, personal insults, name-calling, and sarcastic words can all cause irreparable damage.

Poor body language

Studies show that most of the communication occurs non-verbally through tone of voice and body language. Crossed arms, tilting your head away, not making eye contact, or looking bored are some body language cues that indicate you are disinterested or unwilling to listen to your spouse.

Demanding too much

A partner who is too needy or demands too much from the other spouse invites trouble. Being clingy or expecting too much from the partner can stress them out, leading them to resent you or want to get away from it all.

What can you do to prevent contempt in marriage?

  • Make time for each other where you actively listen to what the other is saying.
  • Talk about the happy times you have had together and how you pushed through difficult times and succeeded to build solidarity.
  • Focus on offering expressions and gestures of appreciation, love, kindness, and support.
  • If you are busy, text back your spouse to let them know that you will call them back later. Ensure you do call back when you are free.
  • Avoid toxic words, sarcasm, and name-calling.
  • Let your spouse grow separately and pursue their interests without being clingy.

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