You remember the feeling, don’t you? You know – the feeling you got when you and your partner first got together. You felt so safe in their arms, and so secure with a simple kiss. You wanted nothing more than to be around them; breathe in their air; dwell in their space; because it felt like home. It was home. And it was probably hard to imagine that feeling could or would ever leave you.
But then one day, it’s gone. And the realization almost feels like a slap to the face. When did this feeling begin to end? How is it possible that the same person you once couldn’t go more than 24 hours without seeing or talking to is now getting under your skin with every word and action?
That empty feeling – the one that may even have you start to believe that this isn’t the person for you after all – it’s founded in the absence of joy in our partner. This emptiness leaves a hole in your relationship that fills with contempt. Quite simply, contempt defined is the feeling that a person is beneath consideration, worthless, or deserving of scorn. It is actually a quite jarring definition. Something that at the surface level, we don’t ever want to feel towards our partner. But more often than not, the loss of that loving feeling is typically replaced with contempt. Further, the actions we do or don’t take to prevent or reverse contempt will leave a lasting impact on our relationships.
Contempt is the force that can turn two people who were once partners into enemies. It
disrupts communication, connection, and understanding. And although it is powerful, it is not impossible to defeat. In this post, we’re going to deep dive into what contempt truly means in regards to your relationship, and what you can do to lower contempt and strengthen your relationship!
Let’s first look at some signs and examples of how contempt manifests itself and what it can look like:
- Attitude: In this instance, attitude boils down to what you say and how you say it. Is your tone hostile, harmful, or even coming off as an attack on your partner? This isn’t to say that you will never have disagreements – we all know that isn’t the case! But the outcome of having those tough conversations rooted in conflict will always be a direct result of your attitude in those moments.
- Body language: Are you communicating non-verbal negatives? Eye rolling, sneering, or even being aggressive in your body movements…these actions are not just limited to teenagers! Often times we may not even realize what non-verbal cues we’re giving off during any given conversation, and these cues can make a big difference on how your delivered message is perceived – whether you realize it or not!
- Teasing and/or mocking: Depending on you and your partner, there may very well be an appropriate time and place for a little good-natured teasing or ribbing. However, being able to identify the appropriate time and place is something you want to be especially conscious of. Making fun of your partner or ridiculing your partner’s words during a serious or tension-filled moment or discussion will not make you any more successful in getting your point across, and is also likely to deepen the divide between you and your partner.
- Name-calling and Insults: This is just plain unnecessary! For starters, we’ve been taught since the tender age of 5 years old to be kind to one another. Further, when you truly think about it, do you really want the people who trust and love you the most to feel hurt or personally attacked by your words? The bottom line here is that name-calling and insults will not get you anywhere you want to go within your relationship. Using words like stupid or lazy, saying things like “you’re such an idiot”, or directing curse words at your partner in an act of aggression will only deepen your resentment for one another.
Even by definition, the main objective of contempt is to do harm, which leaves the door open for insecurities, stress, and division to come in. When contempt enters into a relationship, it overpowers the original story and begins to write a new one – one that is filled with negative thoughts and feelings about your partner. And once this starts, it’s even quicker to snowball!
As the negative thoughts continue to grow, it becomes harder and harder for any positive thoughts to enter. This increases defensiveness and conflict, and can greatly impact the potential for repair. Hopelessness is the main product of this cycle and is just one of the reasons that you’ll start to believe this can never work, or that he or she won’t ever change. Contempt blocks change. Yet in order for change to happen, you have to create a new narrative.
Don’t let contempt rewrite your love story. Here are 5 ways to lower contempt and strengthen your relationship:
- Voice your needs in a gentle way. Try to express your needs without blaming your partner. Focus on your feelings while avoiding a superior or aggressive approach. The goal of this tip is to break the cycle of attacking each other, therefore rebuilding a foundation for your relationship that is respectful, safe, and attentive.
- Check your expectations. We tend to put unrealistic expectations on our partners, but it’s important to remember that you and your partner are not the same. You two have different needs and desires – and that’s okay! Accepting this truth will free you from idealizing your partner, and free your partner from constantly feeling like they’re not measuring up to unattainable expectations.
- Create a new script. Once you can accept the differences between you and your partner, you are more open to healing. Unresolved conflicts keep us replaying the same things over and over, and we get stuck in a negative cycle rather than be able to make any real positive change. Confront what needs to be dealt with (remembering tip #1) and begin showing and expressing appreciation for what is going RIGHT in the relationship.
- Start to repair the relationship. And this isn’t just about you doing your part! Accept the attempts that your partner makes to repair the relationship as well. Committing to this process is vital and plays a big role in increasing appreciation and lowering contempt. This step is what divides the couples who want change and those who are too proud to get it.
- Show empathy. Empathy helps build connection. Showing your partner that you’re willing to understand them is very important because it helps your partner to feel safe. That feeling of safety is likely to encourage them to continue charting a course of honesty and intimacy within your relationship.
Relationships are not easy, yet they can be extremely rewarding. They push us to become our best selves and challenge the way we love others. Your relationship is not something you can set on the shelf and forget about. Dust it off, show it care and attention, and you will reap the benefits and avoid missing out on what a healthy relationship truly has to offer. I hope you find this blog post helpful in your journey to lower contempt and strengthen your relationship!
The dedicated experts at Solid Foundations have helped many couples lower contempt, strengthen relationships, and reignite romance! Learn more at solidfoundationstherapy.com or give us a call at 630-633-8532 today!