Yikes. Pay attention...
Do you ever roll your eyes at your partner or give them a little too much attitude while talking to them? While you may think it's no big deal or just part of your personality, contemptuous behavior can irreparably damage a marriage or relationship.
Dr. Gottman is famous for his work on marital stability and divorce prediction, and has conducted 40 years of research with thousands of couples. Dr. Gottman and his team of researchers have determined the major signs of divorce — or as Gottman calls them, the four horsemen of the apocalypse. The four behaviors that lead to divorce are criticism, defensiveness, stonewalling and the number one sign, contempt.
"When we communicate in this state we are truly mean. Treating others with disrespect and mocking them with sarcasm are forms of contempt," writes Ellie Lisitsa on The Gottman Institute blog. "So are hostile humor, name-calling, mimicking, and/or body language such as eye-rolling and sneering.
In whatever form, contempt is poisonous to a relationship because it conveys disgust. It's virtually impossible to resolve a problem when your partner is getting the message that you're disgusted with him or her."
When you're being contemptuous to your loved one, you aren't treating them with love; you're bullying them and making them feel attacked and victimized, even if all you're doing is making fun of them.
"Contempt is fueled by long-simmering negative thoughts about the partner, in the form of an attack from a position of relative superiority," says Lisitsa. "Inevitably, contempt leads to more conflict rather than to reconciliation."
If you don't want to damage or destroy your relationship, what should you do to keep the contempt in check?
1. It's not what you say, but how you say it.
Name-calling, snickering (when your partner says something), being sarcastic, eye-rolling, and dramatic sighs are all ways of letting your partner know (and not subtly) how little you think of them and/or what they're saying. You need to get off your high horse, and realize that you and your partner are equals; one is not superior to the other.
2. Remove the word "whatever" from your vocabulary.
"Whatever" is what belligerent teens say, not grown-ass adults. When you say "whatever," you're really saying that you're shutting them down and you're not going to listen to them. This says loud and clear that you don't care what they have to say as it has no importance to you. Everyone wants to be heard, and if someone isn't getting that basic need met by their significant other, they'll probably want out pretty quickly.
3. Be careful with sarcasm.
4. Don't build up the animosity.
If something is bothering you, don't internalize and wait for it to come out as a mean or negative comment. Address things as they come up and don't let them morph into huge issues.
5. Watch your body language.
If you're constantly telling your partner you don't care about them or their emotions through body language, you're chipping away at the foundation of your relationship. Be aware of how you're expressing yourself, and stop if you catch yourself doing a jerk move.
Dr. Gottman has found that couples who are contemptuous of each other are more likely to suffer from infectious illnesses (colds, the flu, and so on) than other people.
Lisitsa concludes, "Contempt is the most poisonous of all relationship killers — destroying psychological, emotional, and physical health."