In Part One of my series on healthy communication in relationships we looked at criticism: what it is, what it looks like in relationships, and alternatives to using criticism. In Part Two, we will discuss the second of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse according to Dr. Gottman.
Part Two: Communicating in relationships with Contempt.
While criticism often attacks personality traits, contempt is the intentional degrading of the other person. This often looks like name-calling, verbal abuse, mocking, and non-verbal body language such as; eye rolling and sneering.
Research shows that contempt is the number one predictor of divorce.
Contempt stems from harmful thoughts about the worth of our partners. Over time, negative thoughts become actions that result in blatant disrespect. This communication style is so dangerous because it places one person in a role of being superior and the other as inferior.
Contempt in relationships devalues the worth of our partners and removes any fondness we have. Over time, communicating in relationships with contempt can become abusive and lead to despising our partner.
Remedying this type of communication is possible. Will it be challenging, yes. If this is present in your relationship does it mean you are doomed? No. I will say that contempt is very dangerous and toxic to a relationship and it will take work to repair the damage. Here are some ways to begin to eliminate contempt:
- Lower your acceptance for it: Set healthy boundaries for yourself that involve not engaging in contemptuous behaviors.
- Change the culture of your communicating in relationships: Actively work on bringing in more appreciation through acknowledging each other’s positives.
- Make a list of the qualities that you are fond of in your partner.
- Take some time to talk about positive memories in your past (when you met, your wedding, etc.)
Please reach out to a trained professional if you notice this Horseman in your relationship. Contempt is a serious issue that is reparable, but often requires outside help to fully heal from. When healed, respect and appreciation for our partners and our relationship is restored.
Dr. Gottman’s book The 7 Principles for Making Marriages Work is a great resource for more information and tools.
Stay tuned for Part Three where we will explore Defensiveness.