As a Tampa Couples Counselor, I have become familiar with some of the main issues affecting relationships negatively. The Gottman Method highlights these main issues using a metaphor- The Four Horseman. This describes four communication styles that could end a relationship. According to Gottman, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are Criticism, Contempt, Defensiveness, and Stonewalling. Today, I want to talk about Contempt.
This second to the four relationships killers is seen to be the worst of them according to the Gottman method. When thinking about contempt in the sense of a communicating, it is a little different than the literal meaning of contempt. In a relationship, the Gottman method puts contempt as simply being “I’m better than you. And you are lesser than me” which puts into perspective how destructive contempt can be for a relationship.
Some common themes when contempt comes into the conversation are usually when sarcasm, disrespect, name-calling, mocking, and negative body language are present. This is seen as poisonous to a relationship. When you go back to think how contempt compares to criticism, you will see that criticism is usually an attack on your partners’ character while contempt is a way to feel superior over your partner. Contempt usually comes from a buildup of negative thoughts and feelings about your partner, and when it boils over it can be cruel.
What Contempt Can Look Like in a Relationship
In the Gottman method, they describe contempt as being dangerous for relationships. It is seen as dangerous because of the destruction it can do to someone. When you feel that your partner is being condescending or expressing disgust to you or your behavior, your instant reaction is to defend yourself, which will ultimately make the conflict into something bigger. Here are a few examples of what contempt can look like:
“This house always looks a mess, and it is because you can’t pick up after yourself. Are you still 5 years old? I didn’t know I was married to a child.”
“We can’t even save money. You are always buying stuff for that stupid hobby of yours that is honestly getting old”
“We never have sex anymore. Is it because I don’t look attractive to your anymore? Well, you don’t look the same as you did 10 years ago either. Do you tell your work friends that we don’t have sex, I’m sure it’s a good laugh.”
In these examples you can see where some of that disrespect, mocking or name-calling can come into play and how hurtful it can be mentally, physically, and emotionally.
The Antidote for Contempt
The Gottman method has come up with a way to combat contempt with an antidote, thankfully.
This antidote starts by going back to the beginning and focusing on describing your needs and feelings. When doing this work hard to avoid using “you” and creating blaming statements. This looks familiar to the Gentle Start-Up where you are starting off with “I feel…+ about…+ the need”
If contempt has seeped deeper into the relationship, there might have to be stronger antidote which can look like going back and building that fondness and admiration back up. This is not an overnight fix and will take some time and intentional effort.
When building that fondness and admiration, it can be helpful to look back at your relationships history and talk about and connect through the positive moments. It can also be good to remember some of the tough times that your relationship was able to push through. Some things you can work on bringing back into your relationship are some words of affirmations or appreciation, support, and love. This can look like simple things like taking time to say goodbye to each other, using Gottman’s six-second kiss rule, and taking time to have a conversation about each other’s day. It may seem simple but these acts to build fondness and admiration start to decline as conflict, frustration, anger, and resentment enter the relationship. Fondness helps grow that “we not me” mindset and can strengthen that connection.
If you would like more support with your relationship, please contact a Tampa Couples Counselor today.