Have you ever given your partner the eye-roll when you’re exasperated with their constant nagging? Or called them out on their grammatical faux pas in the midst of an argument? How about mocking them in retaliation for what you deemed to be an unfair accusation?
Every time you do this, you are showing contempt for your partner. And contempt is bad news.
Marriage expert John Gottman has said many times that even though he sees negative communication patterns (such as criticism and defensiveness) in healthy relationships, one behavior that is absent from them is contempt. Considered the third Horseman of Apocalypse in relationships, contempt puts oneself on a higher ground than the other. When you show contempt for another person, you are saying that he or she does not deserve your respect.
Contempt is a sign of an emotionally abusive relationship and must be eradicated. Couples whose negative communication patterns are dominated by contempt far more likely to divorce than others.
So make a stand when you hear your partner say, “How do you expect our son to learn anything when [in a mocking voice] Mommy wants everything to be perfect, Mommy’s gonna do everything for you!” Tell your partner, “You are showing contempt for me and I do not tolerate it. I will not have this discussion with you until you can be respectful.”
Tell your partner you will not be disparaged when she rolls her eyes, sighs in exasperation, and cuts you off by saying, “Gosh, for crying out loud, it’s not I could care less. It’s I couldn’t care less. How many times do you need to hear this?”
If contempt is an ongoing problem in your relationship, seek help immediately. A good therapist can help you uncover what lies beneath the contemptuous behavior, work with you and your partner in building respect and appreciation, and even discuss with you if this is a relationship worth saving. Not all emotionally abusive relationships are doomed to fail, but no one can find happiness if nothing changes.
In my next article, I will talk about the last Horseman: stonewalling.