John Gottman has lengthy referred to contempt as “sulfuric acid for love”: it’s the most harmful of the Four Horsemen – which is normally apparent to the particular person on the receiving finish of contempt. 

Let me be clear: excessive contempt (which at all times consists of disgust and hostility) is a type of emotional battering. If you need a traditional instance of this, watch “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. No precise blood is shed, however you’ll witness the destruction of the human soul within the face of withering scorn. Or you’ll be able to learn Can Words Really Hurt Me? By Shantel Patu. In this weblog: she powerfully describes the horrific abuse perpetrated by a companion wielding contempt as a weapon. Usually, the particular person doing this type of abuse is aware of precisely what they’re doing and has no intention of stopping—they use contempt as a type of overpowering, a approach of dominating. 

But right here I’m addressing a way more refined type of contempt that’s way more widespread amongst {couples}, which I’ve typically seen in my work. And this contempt will be eradicated, as a result of the particular person doing it isn’t dedicated to contempt just like the emotional abuser is. In reality, in the event that they – if you happen to – are doing this, you could not even concentrate on how you’re appearing or talking out of contempt. Despite the damage it causes (acid remains to be acid), the contempt I’m describing right here is usually invisible to the particular person “throwing” it.  

There are a number of methods to specific this extra “subtle” contempt. One approach is taking the upper ethical floor, as with saying to your companion “I’d by no means try this to you!” This comparability instantly units you up as “above” your companion – extra “adult,” extra “mature,” and simply plain higher. A corollary model is saying, “How would you like it if I did that to you?!”—adopted, maybe, by mimicking your companion’s tone or habits, simply to indicate how a lot it hurts. (This at all times works.)  And there’s at all times the traditional lecture: you, the grownup, coping with a very recalcitrant youngster, mentioning how extremely ridiculous your companion’s habits is: “No one would do that!”  

I at all times inform {couples} that contempt is not an indication of sadism or wickedness on the a part of the particular person throwing contempt. Rather, what drives contempt is desperation. It is an try to say to your companion, “I am standing up for myself!” That ought to be wholesome – you’re expressing your wants, proper? But sadly, with contempt, one thing else is occurring: “I’m standing up for myself—in opposition to you.” In these situations, your companion is just not your sweetheart to work on a difficulty with; your companion is your enemy to be shot down.

You specific contempt in the direction of your loved one since you imagine you’re being disrespected, and if you happen to settle for that, then you’re giving up your integrity. Like an remoted soldier at conflict, you’re alone, fending for your self—so that you rattling effectively higher struggle again. The soldier feels justified in taking pictures (they hardly ever consider the humanity of the particular person they’re taking pictures at)—you are feeling justified in needing to defend your self.

Furthermore, individuals expressing contempt inform themselves they’re “just telling the truth,” that they’re expressing “genuine” emotions. (Ironically, expressing “genuine feelings” is the very last thing they’re doing, as we’ll see beneath.) It is the willpower to be real that makes it acceptable to lash out with contempt, since I’m simply “telling it like it is.” And but, once I see the ache and anger in my companion’s eyes, I do know deep inside that I’m not behaving with the integrity I lengthy to have. How did I wind up at conflict with my beloved? 

Even if you happen to strive to not say it, contempt will leak out. Holding it in appears like you’re faking respect to your companion, and to carry again your ache is to poison your self. The pointed silence, the tightened lips, the rolling eyes – in case you are “thinking” contempt, then that’s what feels real to you, and it’ll come out.  

So how do you cease contempt? If you’ll be able to’t merely squash it, what do you substitute it with? Gottman initially inspired creating an “atmosphere of appreciation,” however that’s precisely what’s missing while you’re in a state of contempt. To merely attempt to do the other (admire) places you proper again into feeling faux—and the facility of contempt is that it appears like you’re being real. Gottman realized there must be a path that results in a tradition of appreciation, and that’s by expressing your emotions and your longings. People doing contempt assume that they’re expressing feelings—however they aren’t. They are actually feeling feelings, however contempt is expressing (detrimental) judgments, which your companion will resent. So the important thing antidote to contempt is expressing your emotions and longings—and expressing them effectively.


“Look at you, making breakfast and not asking me if I’d like any! You’re a selfish pig!”

“I miss having our mornings together – we used to really relax. I felt lonely, watching you this morning.”

“What on earth is wrong with you, driving like a maniac! Why can’t you be responsible—like me?!” 

“When you drive like that, I get scared! I honestly start worrying we’ll have an accident, even though I know you’re an alert driver. Can we talk about what’s going on?” (Don’t attempt to have this dialogue within the automobile!)

“Only thoughtless people are late! Not that you are ever going to change…”

You know your lateness irritates me – like proper now! I don’t want you to be good, however it’s onerous for me, ready for you. Tell me one thing about the way you’re working to handle this?”   

“Really? You ‘forgot’ to let me know you had a battle with our parenting class? As if. I by no means do that to you…”

Honey, I can overlook issues myself – typically even necessary issues! But this damage! I felt embarrassed, being there on my own. I actually need an apology!”

“Are you still harping on that? That was six years ago and you’re bringing it up again? Why the hell don’t you see a therapist?”

Whoa – I really feel like I’m lacking one thing right here, and I really feel embarrassed. It’s necessary to me that this previous wound will get healed, and I’m undecided how. Why is that this developing proper now for you?”

Notice what the antidotes entail: a transparent assertion of what I’m feeling (“I’m mad, sad, lonely, scared,…”), typically mixed with a request or a longing (“I’d like…”) and, ideally, an invite (“What do you think?” “Can we talk about this?”)

Once you see what contempt is for, it turns into potential to kill it in its tracks— since you at the moment are centered on expressing what is de facto happening for you. And that’s integrity.

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