If you knew that researchers had discovered a characteristic that dooms relationships, you’d do everything in your power to avoid developing that trait, right? Well, they have.
Marriage researcher, Dr. John Gottman, a well-known psychologist who has written many books about marriage and relationships, has compiled years of research and identified traits that ruin relationships.
The worst of these detrimental traits is the antithesis of kindness and generosity: contempt. Contempt can be defined as lack of respect — regarding something as worthless or inferior.
How does contempt look in a relationship?
You show contempt for your partner when you roll your eyes during a conversation, think you are superior, disregard your spouse’s opinion or insult your spouse. Contempt is destructive. When you raise yourself above your partner and let him or her know it, generally through nonverbal clues, you show contempt.
The word “disgust” is often used as a synonym for contempt. It’s not hard to imagine how difficult it would be for a relationship to thrive if one or both partners felt disgust for the other.
The role of sarcasm
Although contempt is often nonverbal, couples need to be aware of how sarcasm contributes to feelings of contempt among spouses. Sarcasm often includes facial expressions like sneering and scowling, both signs of contempt. Sarcasm cuts deeper than face-to-face criticism because it is more subtle.
Get rid of contempt
How do you keep your relationship free from this marriage killer? First, practice kindness and generosity. Doing so will allow feelings of frustration to recede, leaving no room for contempt to creep in. One of the best ways to be generous is to be forgiving and nonjudgmental, assuming the best about your partner.
Next, fortify your relationship with love. Listen closely when your partner speaks. Try to anticipate his or her needs, and then work to meet those needs. Put your partner’s needs above your own. If things are difficult between you and your spouse, learn to communicate respectfully, and seek outside help if necessary.
After several years of marriage, my husband and I have had our share of arguments. We’ve also had countless experiences together that have brought us closer. Now that I know the danger of contempt in my marriage, I’m going to make a conscious effort to stay clear of it.
If you find your marriage has fallen victim to contempt, work to get your marriage out of that rut. With kindness and generosity as a goal, your marriage can be “contempt-free.”