How Contempt Destroys Relationships


How Contempt Destroys Relationships
A dismissive stance invites relationship ills. Eye rolling is one sign. A curled lip is another.

Contempt may be hard to define but l bet you know it when you feel it. Beware.  Contempt is a prime sign of relationship or marriage problems ahead. Marriage researcher John Gottman lists it as one of his top indicators of a relationship that will fail.

Here's some common signs that contempt is underlying the negative tone in a conversation. 

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Eye-rolling suggests contempt.  An upper lip raised on one side suggests contempt.  So does a sarcastic tone of voice.  Beware if you have these habits, and also if you have been on the receiving end of these negative commuications. They are sure signs that someone is not listening or listening to deprecate you (or you to deprecate your partner), not to gain understanding.

Empathy and contempt are polar opposites.  Empathy involves caring about others feelings and concerns.  Contempt is arrogant ("I know best") disregard, dismissal and denigration of others' concerns.  Empathy nurtures relationship bonds; comtempt invites relationship and marriage problems.

How do parents teach their children empathy and/or contempt?

What parents do toward each other and toward their children teaches kids to do the same. Loving and listening teach loving and listening. Contempt teaches the opposite.

Some kids, and adults, though are clever.  They discover contempt on their own, or learn it from peers.

What is the nature of contempt that makes it such a potent predictor of marriage failure?

Why does eye-rolling cause work relationships to end poorly? What is it about a snippy tone of voice that conveys that you are dismissing and disregarding what someone has said.

Wikipedia gives helpful basic information on the nature of contempt.  It writes:

"Contempt is a ... mix of the primary emotions disgust and anger.[1]The word originated in 1393, from the Latin word contemptus meaning "scorn." ...

Robert C. Solomon places contempt on the same continuum as resentment and anger, and he argues that the differences between the three is that resentment is directed toward a higher status individual; anger is directed toward an equal status individual; and contempt is directed toward a lower status individual.[3]"

Contempt presents a perfect storm of relationship spoilers.

Here's multiple ways that contempt insidiously or explicitly poisons relationships, and especially long-term relationships like marriage and parenting.

1) Insufficient loving.

The more expression of contempt, the less caring for and about each other.

Empathy has the opposite impacts.  The more acts and attitudes of empathy, the more caring and love. The more empathy between spouses and toward children, the more that everyone in a household feels loving and loved.

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2) Contept indicates that someone is making a power play.

Talking with a conemptuous tone of voice or dismissing information from the other of says "I matter.  You don't."  That's a power play. If I know better than you do about you, I’m setting myself above you.

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Article contributed by
Advanced Member

Dr. Susan Heitler, Creator Of "Power Of Two Marriage"


Susan Heitler, Ph.D. and

Location: Denver, CO
Credentials: PhD
Specialties: Anger Management, Communication Problems, Couples/Marital Issues
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