Relationships can suffer for many, many reasons. There is one factor, however, that stands out as a predictor of trouble. That is contempt. None other than John Gottman, a widely respected relationship expert, calls contempt the biggest threat to any relationship. By official definition, contempt relates to treating someone as if they were “worthless” or “deserving scorn.”
In real life, it may not be that simple to recognize. This is particularly dangerous. The more time contempt has to fester, the more problems it can create. Hence, your first step may be to identify contempt in action. From there, it must be addressed ASAP.
5 Signs Contempt is Creeping into Your Relationship & What to do now!
1. Disrespectful Communication Habits
- Not listening
- Finishing their sentences
These are just three of the many ways contempt can be expressed during communication. Such behaviors are like a declaration that the other person — and their feelings — don’t matter.
2. Competing and Correcting
Contempt can make partners feel like opponents. We treat them like someone who has annoyed us on social media. And we “correct” them. And we belittle them by patronizing them and pointing out when and how they are “wrong.”
3. Criticisms and Mockery
This just may be the most obvious sign. Let’s say you just got dressed to attend a social gathering together. Your partner asks, “Is that what you’re wearing?” This is not an innocent or helpful question about fashion. It’s a mean-spirited low blow. This trend leads down a slippery slope to mockery. What was once playful teasing has now become ridicule.
4. Non-Verbal Cues
Examples include eye-rolling, deep sighs, and general body language. In addition, how you say something can mean more than the words themselves. The tone of voice, inflection, sarcasm, etc. all can play a major role in fomenting discord.
5. “Fixing” Whatever Your Partner Does
Nothing the other person does is good enough so they have to “fix” it. This is often accompanied by plenty of the above non-verbal cues.
What to Do If Contempt is Present
Contempt involves cruelty, disrespect, condescension, and hostility. It is an expression of superiority. Left unaddressed, it is relationship poison. Couples counseling is highly recommended. In the meantime, here are some self-help suggestions:
1. Start By Taking Small Steps
Pick some examples and talk to your partner about them. Describe your feeling and avoid “you” statements. Use this as an opportunity to redirect frustration in a productive way.
2. Increase Direct Communication
Contempt is a form of indirect communication. Once you’ve opened the door with suggestion #1, make direct communication a regular thing. It may be challenging but it will always be more pleasant than contempt.
3. Accept Your Role in the Situation
Everyone has a dark side. We all have insecurities. Basically, there isn’t a single person on the planet who is immune from feeling contempt. Explore your own thoughts, motivations, and behaviors.
4. Create a Culture of Gratitude
Work with your partner to cultivate new patterns and approaches. Compliment each other more. Try new things together. Set up regular date nights. Positive actions inspire positive emotions. Get active when it comes to replacing rancor with patience and compassion.
Ask For Help
As touched on above, this is a red flag kind of situation. While you practice some new approaches, it would be immensely helpful to talk with an unbiased guide. When contempt is present, every conversation feels like a minefield. It’s a game-changer to have those discussions alongside (in-person or via video chat) a therapist.
Just because your connection feels threatened doesn’t mean it can’t be repaired. Such work is always more effective with professional guidance. Let’s talk about making that happen for you sooner rather than later. We are here to help with Couples Counseling.
Getting Started With Couples Counseling in the Denver area
If you are experiencing contempt in your relationship, we invite you to call us at 720-551-4553 for a free 20-minute phone consultation with a therapy specialist or click to learn more about our Marriage Counseling and Couples Therapy Services.
Self Care Impact Counseling envisions a new age of counseling for adolescents, adults, couples & groups that makes a REAL difference with core values of GROWTH | BALANCE | COMPASSION | INNER HARMONY.