3 Ways to Battle Contempt

Help Couples to Reduce Contempt!

Greg and Sharon were sitting in our living room. They were struggling to communicate with each other and it was causing disconnection in their relationship. Both of them were honestly looking for answers.

They wanted help to resolve a conflict.

Greg said, “I come home from work and I want to relax a little. Tonight I was watching TV and Sharon asked me to take the garbage out. I told her I’d do it when the show is over.”

Sharon said, “What a surprise! He sits there and does nothing while I do all the work. He’s such a kid. Do you see what I put up with?”

Sharon was treating Greg with contempt.

Recognize Contempt

When we started working with couples, we were eager to learn. I don’t think that I really understood what contempt was or the impact it has on a relationship. I certainly didn’t recognize it when I saw it.

Now, I see it all the time.

Dr. John Gottman, one of the top marriage researchers in the world, identified contempt as one of the most poisonous behaviors inside of a relationship. He found this to be the number one predictor of divorce.

Contempt is the opposite of respect. It’s showing disrespect through words or actions. It’s treating someone as inferior. It’s placing you in a superior position.

Here’s some examples:

  • “You are such an idiot.”
  • Eye rolling
  • Shaking your head in dismissal
  • Name calling
  • A sarcastic tone of voice
  • “You’re such a kid.”

Number 2: Treat Contempt Seriously

Jesus put contempt right up there with killing.

“You have heard that it was said to an older generation, ‘Do not murder,’ and ‘whoever murders will be subjected to judgment.’ But I say to you that anyone who is angry with a brother will be subjected to judgment. And whoever insults a brother will be brought before the council, and whoever says ‘Fool’ will be sent to fiery hell.”

Matthew 5:21-22 (NET Bible)

Wow. That’s serious.

Calling someone a fool is putting yourself in a superior position and is putting them in an inferior position. When we treat someone that way, we are not acting in love.

That’s not treating someone with respect.

Number 3: Think of Your Partner as Infinitely Valuable

Contempt is often an outflow of our thoughts. It’s fueled by thoughts that we dwell on. Dwelling on thoughts about our own superiority feels great, but it doesn’t build your relationship.

When we respect and love our partner, we treat them like they are of infinite value. We listen. If they have a problem with us, we take it seriously. We do this even if we disagree. After all, we respect their thoughts and feelings.

If we dwell on how much better we are and how inferior our partner is, we will show contempt. If we dwell on how much we respect our partner and how much we want to understand when they do something that we disagree with, we will be more respectful.

How We Coach Couples that Show Contempt

Greg and Sharon had a serious problem. Sharon regularly treated Greg with contempt.

When we identified it, we asked Sharon about it. Sharon explained that it was how her family communicated. She had been brought this way.

I asked Greg how it impacted him. He wasn’t able to articulate it very well. He knew he didn’t like it, but he couldn’t quite explain how it made him feel.

I suggested that he read, “Love and Respect” by Dr. Emerson Eggerichs. Greg is not a reader, but he said he’d try. He called me one night and said that he picked up the book. He couldn’t put it down. It was explaining exactly how he felt. When he was able to explain it to Sharon, she was able to get the impact her words were having on him.

They were both able to slowly change their thoughts and their behaviors.

Tips for Marriage Mentors:

  • Recognize Contempt – Learn to recognize contempt. Help couples to understand when they are engaging in contempt.
  • Treat Contempt Seriously – Jesus treated contempt as something serious. Sometimes it seems like such a small thing, but it can have a disastrous effect on a relationship.
  • Teach Couples to Think of Their Partner as Infinitely Valuable – Couples can work on reducing the contemptuous behavior. It’s even better if you work on changing your thoughts. Thoughts will influence behavior.

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