Pennsylvania residents might think that money troubles or infidelity are the most common causes of divorce, but an expert on marital strife who has observed thousands of couples says that contempt is the clearest harbinger of a marriage in trouble. He believes that criticism, defensiveness and stonewalling often accompany contempt when spouses begin to find each other’s company unbearable, but he also says that there are steps couples can take to combat this destructive emotion and get their relationships back on track.

Contempt between married couples is particularly destructive because it reveals that one party has lost respect for the other. These spouses feel that they are better than their husbands or wives, and these feelings are commonly conveyed by malicious language such as sarcasm, mocking and name-calling and dismissive body language like eye-rolling and sneering. When contempt creeps into a relationship, people become so ensnared in hostility that they forget or overlook the positive qualities that initially attracted them to their partners.

According to the expert, nurturing fondness and admiration is the best way to escape the downward spiral of contempt. He says that he has been able to accomplish this by asking spouses about how they met and their first impressions of one another. This can be an especially useful exercise when marriages are in trouble and spouses are reluctant to speak of each other in positive terms when discussing current events.

Experienced family law attorneys will likely have encountered clients who have been physically or verbally abused by their spouses, and they may seek to protect them from further mistreatment by halting divorce negotiations whenever tempers flare or their clients seem to be in distress. Attorneys could also petition the court for orders of protection when their clients face a credible threat of physical or emotional harm.