The Remedy For Contempt In Relationships

Contempt is one of the four primary relationship destroyers, or what Dr. John Gottman calls The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, and has been found through research, to be the most damaging.   Name-calling, sarcasm, passive aggression, mocking, and ridiculing are examples of the ways contempt is expressed and can result in partners feeling worthless, unloved, and loathed.   Contemptuous behavior is associated with a position of superiority as well as blatant disrespect.  When contempt is present in a relationship, it breeds tension and toxicity among partners, which can be challenging to recover from, especially if it left unaddressed.    

Contempt occurs when partners harbor negative feelings about one another over time and instead of addressing concerns as they occur in a healthy way, the negativity builds.  The focus is targeted on all of the things a partner does wrong, which promotes reinforcement of the negative thoughts and feelings within the relationship.  

Through years of work and research with couples, Dr. Gottman was able to identify 7 stages, or levels, that couples can work on in order to build and establish a strong relationship foundation, which he terms the Sound Relationship House.  The second level of the Sound Relationship House focuses on the process couples can navigate in order to eliminate contempt within a relationship.  This process entails couples to engage in a conscious shift in mindset from focusing on the negative aspects of a partner to acknowledging and highlighting the actions that a partner does that is right and positive.  This shift aims at developing the ability to filter out destructive thoughts and feelings so that feelings of respect, fondness, affection, and appreciation are promoted.       

Some examples of exercises couples can practice to promote fondness and admiration include:

  •     Identify at least 5 positive thoughts or traits about your partner for every 1 complaint or                 negative thought about him or her.
  •     Create a daily ritual of sharing at least one reason you appreciate your partner.
  •     Identify and share the reasons you initially became attracted to one another.
  •     Verbally acknowledge when a partner does something to meet your needs.
  •     Identify actions or traits about your partner that you admire.

~ Cory Stege, M.S. LMFT