What is the Antidote to Contempt? 

Drs. John and Julie Gottman described contempt as one of the Four Horsemen in relationships. They have discovered in their research that the Four Horsemen are predictors of relationship success or failure. These patterns include criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling. In previous posts, I discussed Criticism and Defensiveness. This post will focus on the third of the Four Horsemen, contempt, and how it can impact the couple’s communications and prevent them from experiencing a healthy and fulfilling relationship.

Contempt is one of the most toxic and damaging forms of communication in relationships. It is a form of anger that involves disrespect, disgust, and a sense of superiority. It is often expressed through sarcasm, eye-rolling, mocking, name-calling, sneering and ridicule. 

In contempt, one partner attacks the other’s character and causes significant emotional pain. When you feel contemptuous towards your partners, it’s a sign that you view them as inferior and beneath you. This kind of attitude can lead to feelings of resentment, anger, and emotional distance in the relationship. 

How to navigate contempt in relationships? 

Drs. John and Julie Gottman describe the antidote to contempt as “Do not do it!”. It is easier said than done, but because contempt is the strongest predictor of divorce in couples, Drs Gottman believes we need to eliminate it from relationships entirely and replace it with: 

  • Better communication skills.

Communicating in a non-threatening manner creates a safe environment for couples to express themselves. By expressing your feelings, needs, and wants clearly and respectfully, you can work together to find solutions for both of you. In this communication, you are focusing on explaining your own experiences using “I” language, such as “I feel …” rather than talking about your partner.

  • A culture of appreciation and fondness in relationships.

This involves focusing on the positive aspects of your relationship, expressing appreciation for your partner’s positive traits, and working together to rebuild your connection. 

I invite you to contact me if the issue of contempt is too complex to resolve on your own. Couple therapy can identify the root of it in relationships and address the unmet needs, past hurt and resentment that could have potentially led to the development of content. 

I wish you all the best.

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