Welcome back, this episode is on contempt. Just being plain ol’ mean. This is the worst one of The 4 Horsemen. This is the one more closely associated with divorce.
The loss of appreciation and respect for our partners may mean like long term negative thoughts are emerging. Or have been brewing over a long period of time. So, contempt might come out in obvious ways like calling our partners names, saying other mean things or slightly less obvious ways like rolling our eyes, cutting, sarcastic comments or hostile humor very much fall into this category. And in terms of hostile humor, if your spouse ain’t laughin about a joke you just made, that is a cue that you went too far. It doesn’t matter what you think, it matters what your partner thinks.
This is the worst one! It is important to make great strides to eliminate this first! What I know about you guys is that your relationship is important to you. Even more than the other ones, I really want you to pay attention to this one!
I am blessed so far
In mine and Jake’s relationship, I feel really blessed that contempt isn’t something that has been a huge issue. I think we both have slight tendencies toward it, but we can call each other out on it and make a lot of corrections. I think that since we have done a lot of work on our relationship that this hasn’t even emerged at this point. That isn’t to say it couldn’t, but we must be vigilant about these kinds of things.
Again, contempt comes from a lot of long-standing negative thoughts about your partner. You want to be very intentional about how you think about your partner. Where are you with your appreciation and respect for your partner? If that is something that is starting to wane, you want to check in on that. That could be a warning sign that contempt is coming, and you can ward it off if you notice it.
The one-sided conversations
In terms of working with my clients, I always try to keep in mind that I as their therapist, am only hearing one side of the conversation. Whether that is a conflict with a partner, spouse, friend, coworker, family member that is their side and they might leave out parts of the conversation that they exhibited contempt or whether it seems that the other part showed contempt. I am very aware that I am hearing only one side. Please be aware that I know and can only speak to what I have heard while in session.
Sometimes, if it is our contempt towards others, it can be filtered through our own shame. Deep down we feel badly about it and we don’t want to share that with others lest we be judged or feel like we will be judged. Sometimes it is our own lack of self-awareness. Sometimes we aren’t aware that the joke we made was hurtful to our partners. I sometimes hear this more in the sense of parent and child where they are citing with each other and against the other parent. I can hear this as mean teasing.
Unfortunately, my clients hear that they are just being sensitive. Like if someone said something really mean to them and they start crying, it gets brushed under the rug as they are being too sensitive. Let me just say, you can never be too sensitive. I understand that we may need to have some perspective taking and that in many ways that it is good to give someone the benefit of the doubt. This doesn’t mean that in every situation, and in my experience, my clients have a wonderful gut instinct of when someone is really being intentionally mean towards them. Sensitivity is not the issue; sensitivity is a huge strength of most of my clients.
If there is even a nagging part of you that says you did something or said something out of line with your partner, I want you to check in with your partner and check if it was contempt. And it is okay if it was, we are going to talk about the antidote if it was in just a moment.
I also want you to check in on if your partner does these things. Do you say something? Do you call them out? Do you let them know it is not okay to talk to you that way?
First, we apologize
What do we do about this? If we are the contemptuous party, we need to first and foremost APOLOGIZE. We need to take responsibility for it and do better.
If we are receiving contempt from our partner, and when it is safe to do so, with regards to our physical safety, say something. That isn’t okay to say that to me. There is a kinder way to say that and I am willing to hear that when you are willing to say that in a kinder way. With a partner that is willing, and I pray that for all of you, focus on building the friendship. Go back to those early stages of your partnership and focus on rebuilding the foundation of your relationship.
Continue cultivating appreciation and respect. If there is a lot of contempt going on, appreciation and respect has been lost. Focus on rebuilding that. What are some things about your partner that you can appreciate and respect?
Sometimes my clients will say, “Meredith, you don’t even know this person. You have no idea; I cannot respect them anymore.” Okay, we can start small. Start somewhere, doesn’t matter where. So instead of saying to your partner, “why would you say that!” Instead say, “Thank you for taking the time out of your day to do that, I really appreciate that.”
So, I don’t care how small it is, I really want you to focus on the appreciation and respect aspect of your relationship.
How is contempt in your relationship
So think about where contempt is in your relationship. Is it subtle? Is it obvious? What are ways that you could be contributing to this? Do you need to find kinder words? Do you need to speak up for yourself? Do you need to appreciate and respect your partner more? Erasing contempt from your relationship is the best thing you can do for you relationship. So, start now!
Help in the meantime:
YouTube channel BWBL playlist
Gottman Institute Blog