Therapy Blog for Orem, Spanish Fork & South Jordan

Common Relationship Problems: Contempt

Navigating Common Relationship Problems: Contempt

As we mentioned in the previous article, saying you have relationship problems when you are married is like saying you got wet when you went swimming (Related Article: Relationship Problems – Criticism). It comes with the territory. Remember, it’s not the presence of relationship problems (i.e., arguments, fights) that leads to divorce. But rather, it’s how you handle your relationship problems that can lead you divorce (from the research of John Gottman). 

 4 Specific Relationship Problems To Avoid

As mentioned before, John Gottman found 4 different relationship problems that were consistent among couples who divorce.(Related Article: 4 Signs You Have Marriage Problems). Criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling are the big 4 to avoid. These were common in this group that didn’t make it. It doesn’t have to be you, however. We will address these 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse, as John Gottman would call them, separately in different articles (Related Article: How To Fix Your Marriage Problems). 

Relationship Problems: Contemptrelationship problems

Let’s talk specifically about one relationship problem in particular, contempt, what it is and what to do about it. Contempt is one of the more dangerous Horseman that Gottman has outlined. If you find it in your relationship, work to get it out as soon as possible. It’s a sign that the end is nigh. Big time problem. 

Contempt goes beyond criticism by conveying disgust and loathing. It uses meanness and disrespect as its methods of communication. It’s not just what you say, but how you say it. The eye roll, disgusted gesture and negative body language allcommunicate your distaste for your partner’s being. You loathe them and want to assert your moral supremacy over them through what you do. This one is harsh and dangerous. 

Example of Contempt

Here is an example of contempt – brace yourself. Shaking her head and rolling her eyes, a wife says to her husband, “Wow! Really? You didn’t mean to look at pornography again and you are sad about it. You’re pathetic. How many times do you have to screw up before you actually get it?” This is contempt through gestures and what is said. It shows her disgust with her husband. 

Fix Relationship Problems: Contempt

Use appreciation and respect to combat contempt. Assume that they are imperfect and trying their best in life and your relationship. Notice their effort and give them space to be imperfect as a partner and human. Use a ratio of 5:1 positive interactions to every negative interaction. This builds up your bank account, Gottman says. 

Example Of Appreciation and Respect

Read this example of showing respect and appreciation. “I can see that you are struggling with pornography and doing your best. It hurts me when you use pornography and I can see that it hurts you as well.” You are hurt and are able to share that without attacking and showing disgust to your partner. 

Couples Therapy Can Help You Fix Relationship Problems

Marriage and family therapists are trained to help you overcome contempt and be safe and happy with your spouse. Ready to get started? Click here to schedule an appointment in South Jordan, Spanish Fork, Orem, or via Telehealth. 


Written by Dr Triston Morgan, Utah Marriage and Family Therapist

Utah Therapy


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