The Trouble with Contempt in Relationships

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The Trouble with Contempt in Relationships

Contempt, my dear readers, is one of the deadliest toxins that can seep into a relationship. If you’ve ever rolled your eyes at your partner, called them names in the heat of an argument, or disregarded their feelings, you’re dancing with contempt, and it’s time to stop. 

As an experienced marriage counselor, I know that contempt in a relationship is a clear sign that the relationship is in trouble. Couples who stop respecting each other often stop loving each other, unless they can get into couples therapy and overcome this negative cycle before it’s too late. 

In this article, we’ll explore what contempt is, why it hurts relationships, and what you can do if contempt is becoming a problem for you and your partner. 

What Is Contempt in Relationships?

Contempt is a toxic cocktail of anger and disgust, laced with a strong sense of superiority. It’s that sneering attitude that can infiltrate the way you communicate with your partner, dragging every interaction down in a process known as negative sentiment override. Contempt attacks your partner’s character or personality, rather than focusing on the specific problem at hand. For example, if your partner forgets to pick up groceries, and you respond with a disdainful, “You always mess things up,” that’s contempt.

Why Is Contempt So Damaging to Relationships?

Contempt is like rust on the frame of a car; it slowly eats away at the foundation of your connection until it crumbles. When one partner starts to feel superior and belittles the other, it’s a surefire way to create emotional distance. Eye-rolling, sarcasm, and name-calling may seem like no big deal in the heat of the moment, but over time, they erode the love and respect that should be the bedrock of your relationship, until eventually your relationship fails. That’s why relationship expert John Gottman named contempt as one of the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.”
The damage caused by contempt isn’t just emotional; it can also have a profound impact on physical health. Studies have shown that couples who display contemptuous behavior are more likely to experience infectious illnesses and other health problems. So, if you’ve been thinking that contempt is just a momentary release of frustration, it’s time to rethink your approach.

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What to Do if Contempt Is a Problem in Your Relationship

If contempt has taken root in your relationship, it’s a clear sign that your communication and emotional connection are in dire need of repair. While it’s tempting to believe you can solve this problem on your own, the truth is that contempt often reflects deeper issues that require professional guidance to truly resolve.

Couples counselors, or LMFTs, are trained to help you and your partner address the roots of contempt and its damaging effects. They can provide a safe space for both of you to express your feelings, frustrations, and fears. This process allows you to repair your emotional bond, learn healthier ways to communicate, and shift your relationship system in fundamental ways. 

One of the essential benefits of seeking help from a couples counselor is that they’re impartial. They won’t take sides or assign blame, which trust me, will only make the situation worse. Instead, they’ll work with you both to identify harmful patterns and develop effective strategies to create change. Couples counseling is not about labeling one partner as “the problem,” but recognizing that you both have a role to play in healing your relationship.

If you’re in the market for a couples counselor, make sure you choose an actual couples counselor, and not an individually trained therapist who also offers couples counseling. The best couples counselors use evidence-based approaches to relational therapy that have been shown to create real change in relationships. 

This is vital work that can literally change the course of the trajectory of both of your lives, and the lives of your children. Make sure you choose wisely! You can learn more about how to choose a couples counselor here. 

Support for Loving, Connected Relationships

Contempt is a relationship poison that must be addressed sooner rather than later to prevent further harm. A good couples counselor will help you rebuild your emotional connection, restore love and respect, and create a healthier, more loving partnership

And if you would like support from a relationship expert at Growing Self, I invite you to schedule a free consultation

With love, 

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby 
P.S. — For more advice on healing your emotional connection and restoring love and respect, check out my “Relationship Repair” collection of articles and podcasts.

Marriage Counseling Questions | Couples Therapy Questions

If you’re considering getting involved in marriage counseling, couples therapy, or relationship coaching you probably have questions! Get your marriage counseling questions answered, right here.

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