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  • Writer's pictureLaura

How Contempt Can Harm Your Relationship And What To Do About It

Contempt: it’s one of the most poisonous ways of communication that can ruin your relationship. It typically appears as a result of unresolved anger which gets built up over time.

But what is contempt? And how might it harm your relationship?

How do you and your partner share or process anger?

Contempt can happen when one or both partners bottle up their anger. Instead of being able to share that they are angry, or explain why they are upset, they attack or undermine their partner, using the weapon of contempt.

Contempt undermines the other partner indirectly, leading them to feel unimportant or unloved.

What is contempt?

Contempt can take many forms, but could include:

● “Weren't you taught how to take care of things when you were a child?”

● “You’re never on time, what’s wrong with you?”

● “Don’t you know that this restaurant is closed on Sundays? This is so typical of you”

Contempt consists of harmful, critical language that suggests that one partner is superior to another, a negative power move which could then result in feelings of invalidation or inadequacy.

Contempt can also show up in a person’s body language or behaviour, such as eye rolling, ignoring the other person or turning away with a shrug.

If this sounds like something happening in your relationship, it should be addressed immediately.

Conflict happens in every relationship - but negative, critical comments based on contempt can destroy a person’s self-esteem and the relationship itself.

According to relationship experts at The Gottman Institute, contempt is the biggest predictor of divorce.

Contempt is a level beyond criticism. It is criticism from a position of superiority, where comments or behaviour suggest that one partner seem superior to the other.

Overcoming contempt in your relationship

Express how you are feeling

Avoid pointing fingers or using “you statements.” “You statements” might make your partner feel like they’re doing something wrong. Instead, focus on communicating how you feel and suggesting a solution. Invite your partner to do the same so you can create a solution together.

For example:

“When [triggering event] happens, I feel [emotion]. Would you be interested if we [suggest a solution] instead?” or

“I’m feeling [how you feel], and I need [state a need]. Can we talk about a solution that works for both of us?”


“I felt angry when we arrived at the restaurant and it was closed. I still feel a little stressed. Can we hug?”

Build a “culture of appreciation.”

Look for positives about your partner and the things they say or do. Make a point to regularly express affection, gratitude, and appreciation for your partner. For example, try spending a few minutes every day expressing specific gratitude or compliments between you and your partner.

Listen with empathy and without interrupting

Understand that you and your partner might have experienced the same situation differently. Make a point to understand each other’s perspectives and feelings.

● Try not to be dismissive or offensive. Try not to belittle your partner. Instead, acknowledge their feelings.

● Instead of criticizing your partner, give them feedback. Talk about your perspective and make a suggestion or request.

Pay attention to your body language during an argument

You might notice yourself get tense, shrug, or cross your arms. These are all ways our bodies close ourselves from our partners. If you notice yourself doing that, try turning towards your partner and uncrossing your arms.

Seek professional guidance

If you or your partner still struggle to communicate, hiring an unbiased, professional couple’s therapist can help you both find a resolution.

Overcoming contempt can rebuild the trust in the relationship.

It can build both partners’ self-esteem and confidence, so that both partners can experience deeper love and connection.

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