There are many things that can cause your relationship to end, but one of them is regarded as a reliable predictor that you and your partner just won’t last. I’m talking about contempt, which leads to treating the other person as if they’re worthless and don’t matter. Here’s what you need to know about this feeling and what to do about it.
It changes the way you treat people.
Dr. John Gottman, a leading marriage and relationship researcher, has found that contempt in a relationship is a serious problem. Contempt is defined as a feeling that a person is beneath consideration, and if you feel that way about someone, you’ll treat them accordingly, and that’s terrible.
It’s one of the most common relationship problems.
It’s shocking and sad to think that contempt is one of the most common problems couples face. According to researchers at the University of Washington, contempt is one of the four signs of relationship failure that can easily occur when people let their emotions get the better of them. (The other three are criticism, defensiveness, and stonewalling.)
Signs of contempt are easy to spot.
Some of the common signs of contempt in your relationship are if you and your partner are highly critical of each other, shut each other down during conversation or arguments, and talk down to each other. You can tell someone is treating you with contempt if they’re acting superior to you.
Contempt can get ugly.
Contempt can also become more serious and troubling, like if your partner insults you or calls you names like “crazy” (or worse) to bring you down. Name-calling is a no-no!
That being said, this can also be subtle.
You might not realize that your partner’s treating you with contempt. He might not actually be saying things to you that are hurtful. It’s more of an energy you get around him because you feel like you’re being ridiculed or undermined. For instance, if your partner’s communication includes rolling his eyes at you, raising his upper lip, or speaking to you in a sarcastic tone of voice. These are all used to hurt you.
Contempt tends to show up most often here.
One of the areas in your relationship where contempt is likely to show up is during conflict. How you and your partner deal with this says a lot about the health (or lack of it) of your relationship. Bear in mind that conflict is healthy, but contempt takes it to a horrible level because it turns it into an attack.
It wrecks marriages.
A study of 373 newlywed couples found that people who screamed at each other, showed contempt for each other, or disengaged from conflict during the first year of their marriage were more likely to get a divorce – even years later.
It can make you sick.
Dr. Gottman has found that couples who show each other contempt are more prone to infectious illnesses such as colds and flu than other people. It makes sense because dealing with contempt is stressful.
It’s all about power.
Underneath all that screaming and insulting, there’s often a power play going on. If someone is treating you with contempt, such as by mocking you when you tell them how their bad behavior makes you feel, they’re trying to exert power over you. They’re basically saying that your feelings don’t matter.
You feel rejected.
If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of contempt in your relationship, you’ll know how rejected it makes you feel. That’s a definite sign that contempt is happening, even if you might not see it. If you’re constantly feeling rejected because of how your partner is undermining your feelings or telling you you’re the one who’s at fault, it can really break you down.
When you have contempt, you lack empathy.
One of the biggest problems with contempt is that it can’t exist with empathy – and that’s a really important element of healthy relationships. If you can’t step inside your partner’s shoes, feel compassion for them and acknowledge their feelings, there’s a lot of support and love lacking.
You can turn contempt into something positive.
If your relationship is otherwise good and you want to make things work, you need to get rid of contempt. You can do this by changing how you communicate. For instance, instead of criticizing your partner by saying he’s selfish because he never helps you with your problems, say, “Babe, it would be so great to have your support on this.” In this way, you’re expressing what you need without attacking your partner, and they’re more likely to respond to you in a positive way.
Focus on love.
Contempt is disgust and hatred – it has no space for love. You and your partner should try to focus on the good feelings and love you have for each other. Think back to all that you’ve overcome as a couple, how you felt when you first met, and how happy you’ve made each other. When you do this, you remember what’s great about your relationship and stop taking each other for granted.
But remember, you don’t have to stay.
Perhaps contempt is such a big predictor of relationship demise because it’s so soul-destroying. It’s not always easy to come back from it and try to salvage your relationship when it’s been poisoned by contempt. And you don’t have to! If you’ve been badly hurt by your partner’s contempt and no matter what you do, they’re still being contemptuous, a breakup is just what the doctor ordered. Same goes for if you don’t see anything worth saving in your relationship. You deserve respect, love and compassion – leave if the relationship is not giving it to you anymore.
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