The #1 Relationship Killer
Contempt guarantees the end of a relationship.
When I came across this statement by John Gottman, it stopped me in my tracks. All my past relationships flashed before my eyes and I realized how true it is.
Contempt is disgust. It is seeing your partner as deserving of scorn, being beneath you or worthless even. It can be subtle or overt, and seeps like poison into a relationship.
When I looked back through a retrospective lens, I could see the current of contempt that ran through one relationship in particular and see clearly how it was a factor in the ending of that relationship.
My ex showed up late often, wasn’t present when we were together, had poor boundaries and was awkward in social situations. I always felt more alone with him than without him, which was deeply uncomfortable. At that time, I judged him as being awful and inept. I was righteous, shaming, and put him down, hoping he would change. No shock here… the relationship didn’t last.
Contempt is caused by the inability to sit with your own discomfort and instead, project it onto your partner. Looking back, I now realize I should have accepted that my ex was not the right person for me and moved on, or seen my own contempt and worked with it.
Respect is the antivenom for the poison of contempt.
After studying this insight, seeing its resonance in my own relationships, and working through it with my clients, I have found that disarming contempt is one of the most powerful relationship tools there is.
Do you notice small fibers of contempt in the fabric of your relationship? Have these small fibers multiplied into more malignant energy that has seeped into even more moments of your life with your partner? Take serious notice but don’t worry, admitting contempt can be the first step in a process of healing and self-growth.
How to Disarm Contempt in Your Relationship:
- Hold others with the same respect you have for yourself. If this first step was easy would our world be so chaotic?
Be humble. Remember that everyone is good at some things and not so good at other things.
- Separate personhood from behavior. For example, if your partner forgets to call you, understand that (s)he is not an awful person. What you do is not who you are.
- Remember that your partner’s upbringing is just as valid as yours. Just because its familiar doesn’t make it good.
- Understand that the way you’re raised dictates what you find acceptable. Examine your story.
- Realize that what you think is “right” is just as valid as what you’re partner thinks is “right”.
Start with these small shifts in perspective. Once you put down the weapon of contempt, you will likely be left with your vulnerabilities and fears. Notice and allow discomfort and any realizations that come up as a result. You will be one step closer to the mature, satisfying relationship you long for.