Nobody wants to feel contempt in their marriage. But while some contemptuous feelings might develop over time, certain behaviors can make it harder to avoid. This article looks at the most common behaviors that have the potential to create an atmosphere of contempt in your marriage.
1. Overview of Marital Contempt
Marital contempt is an emotion that occurs between a couple in a committed relationship, such as spouses or couples living together. Contempt is expressed in such things as comments, facial expressions, body language, and tone of voice, and is often the result of criticism, nit-picking, ridicule, and belittling. It is a negative emotion and one of the four types of destructive marriage communication identified by John Gottman.
Contempt is distinct from other negative emotions in marital conflict, such as anger or hurt, in that it involves feelings of superiority over the other partner. The feeling accompanying contempt can be characterized by things such as scorn, name-calling, ridicule, mocking, sarcasm, and criticism.
Contempt can arise in nearly any marital relationship but is particularly frequent when partners have significant differences. Issues such as core beliefs, gender roles, parenting styles, expectations, and experiences can all lead to contempt between a couple. Secondary causes of contempt such as financial stress, communication styles, work dynamics, and respect for space can also be contributors.
Effects on the couple
- Contempt can create hostile interactions between partners, leading to further separation.
- It can undermine the relationship by eroding trust, respect, and care.
- It can also put a break in open communication, thus reducing the exchange of ideas and opinions, making the relationship primarily based on negativity.
- In addition, contempt can lead to a disrespectful and dismissive attitude toward the other.
- In the worst cases, contempt can be a source of psychological harm to one or both partners.
Ultimately, the effects of contempt on a marital relationship can be destructive and should be addressed. For this, solutions range from taking the time to express issues in a constructive way, to seeking outside assistance in the form of counseling or couples therapy.
2. Identifying Common Behaviors
Communication Breakdown One of the most common culprits behind marital discord is a breakdown in communication. When couples stop actively listening to each other, misunderstandings multiply. This can escalate to a point where partners start to assume the worst intentions behind each other’s words or actions. Passive-aggressive comments, consistent interrupting, and choosing to give silent treatment are all indicators that communication is deteriorating. Prioritizing open and honest dialogue can help prevent these patterns from taking root.
Taking Each Other for Granted Marriages, like all relationships, require constant nurturing. An often overlooked behavior that breeds contempt is when one or both partners begin to take the other for granted. Whether it’s not acknowledging the small gestures, like making a cup of coffee in the morning or handling household chores, or larger sacrifices like supporting a partner’s career moves, appreciation matters. When gratitude is absent, feelings of being undervalued or unimportant can manifest, leading to a growing sense of resentment.
Avoiding Emotional Intimacy While physical intimacy is frequently discussed in the context of marital issues, emotional intimacy is equally crucial. When partners pull away from sharing their fears, dreams, hopes, and daily experiences, a chasm can grow between them. Over time, this distancing can lead to feelings of being roommates rather than romantic partners. The emotional disconnect often gives rise to contempt, as the partners begin to perceive each other as emotionally unavailable or indifferent.
Fostering Unrealistic Expectations Marriage is a partnership, and while it’s natural to rely on each other, fostering unrealistic expectations can lead to contempt. When one partner expects the other to constantly meet their emotional, financial, or social needs without expressing or communicating them, it sets the stage for disappointment. Such unspoken and unrealistic expectations can lead to one partner feeling overwhelmed or feeling like they can never do enough, while the other feels perpetually unsatisfied.
Recognizing these behaviors early on is vital to addressing them head-on, ensuring that contempt doesn’t take root and erode the foundations of the marital bond. It’s always advisable for couples to seek professional counseling or therapy when they sense these patterns creeping into their relationship.
3. The Impact of Contemptuous Actions
Contemptive actions can have a significant impact on relationships. Even minor offenses can be decried as disrespectful and trigger a reaction that will send a dynamic of disproportionally aggressive retorts.
Taking contemptuous actions can completely undermine a relationship. These include:
- Expressing disgust or scorn publicly
- Making sarcastic remarks
- Disregarding the feelings of another
- Crossing one’s arms while someone else is talking
These actions can create feelings of humiliation, worthlessness, and inferiority. As these emotions are unlikely to be discussed openly, there may be a tendency to hold resentment and negative thoughts. These characteristics can then have a long-term impact on the relationship.
On a more subtle level, contemptuous actions can be damaging to a relationship because they do not align with a fundamental core of respect and trust. Without these two powerful emotions, communication and dialogue can be hindered as there is a lack of safety felt.
Ultimately, contemptuous actions need to be addressed quickly so that trust and respect can be restored in the relationship. If timeframes of contempt continue to exist, irrevocable damage can permanently occur, thus breaking down any potential of future goodwill.
4. Ways to Break Negative Patterns
Breaking negative patterns can be hard, but it’s possible if you work on it. Below are some useful tips that can help you break the patterns.
- Acknowledge the behavior knowing it’s not serving you. Recognizing the behavior can be a powerful part of letting it go. Acknowledging the dysfunction can be unpleasant, but it will allow you to see it from an observer’s perspective.
- Find ways to relieve tension and be mindful of the present moment. For example, take several deep breaths, practice deep relaxation, or find a calming activity like going for a walk or reading a book.
- Take new courses of action. This requires discovering alternative ways of addressing difficult situations and having the courage to try them. Remind yourself you have a choice in how you respond.
- Identify the source of thoughts and feelings associated with negative patterns. Create a system to deal with troubling feelings and replace them with positive thoughts and behavior.
- Develop a positive habit. Pick up an activity such as jogging, meditating, or yoga and keep up with it every day. It may be hard to get started, but it can help reset your normal reactions.
Start changing behavior by making small steps and being gentle and consistent with yourself. Use positive self-talk and be mindful of negative patterns. Lastly, seek help and advice: a psychologist can help if you need more guidance and accountability.
Q: What are some common behaviors that can breed contempt in marriage?
A: There are several common behaviors that can lead to or deepen feelings of contempt in a marriage. These include being critical or dismissive of a partner’s opinion, talking down to or belittling a partner, or disregarding a partner’s needs and wants.
Q: How can these behaviors lead to contempt?
A: Over time, these behaviors can create a feeling of disrespect, distance, and anger in a marriage. If unaddressed, the hurt, resentment, and bitterness can build up and build a wall between partners that can make it difficult to feel or express love.
Q: What can couples do when dealing with contempt in their marriage?
A: It is important that couples try to recognize and address any behaviors that may be causing feelings of contempt in their marriage. Communication is key for couples to work to repair their relationship and understand each other. Taking a break or seeking professional counseling can be helpful if couples are having trouble reversing destructive patterns of behavior.
It is important to be mindful of every small gesture when married. Taking the time to identify possible marriage contempt behaviors can help build a healthier and happier marriage. The more awareness there is, the easier it is to make sure that the marriage is a positive and nourishing relationship.