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  • Writer's pictureGabriella Sharp, AMFT

Recognizing and Combating Contempt

Contempt is often considered one of the most destructive forces in a marriage. It's an emotion that erodes the foundation of trust and love between partners. Understanding what contempt looks like is crucial for couples seeking to nurture a healthy, long-lasting relationship. In this blog post, we'll dive into the signs and consequences of contempt, shedding light on why it's so detrimental and offering strategies to address it.


Signs of Contempt in a Marriage


Contemptuous behavior in a marriage often manifests through critical language and tone. Partners might resort to sarcasm, mockery, or belittling remarks, conveying disdain and disrespect. These expressions can make the receiving partner feel diminished and devalued. Additionally, implicit, non-verbal cues like rolling eyes, sneering, or smirking can be equally as damaging. These gestures signal a lack of regard for a partner's feelings or opinions, creating a deep divide.


Name-calling and insults are explicit indicators of contempt. When partners resort to using derogatory names or hurling insults, it represents a direct attack on a partner's self-worth. This behavior can have lasting effects on their self-esteem and erode their sense of self. Another unmistakable sign is a dismissive attitude, where concerns, feelings, or perspectives are routinely disregarded. This conveys a message that one partner's emotions or thoughts hold no value in the eyes of the other.


A partner who consistently refuses to listen is exhibiting contemptuous behavior. This behavior demonstrates a lack of interest in understanding their partner's point of view, and can lead to a sense of isolation and frustration. Moreover, when a partner mocks or belittles the vulnerabilities and insecurities shared, it creates a toxic atmosphere of emotional distance. This undermines the trust and mutual understanding that are crucial for a healthy, thriving relationship.


Consequences of Contempt


The ramifications of contempt in a marriage are far-reaching. Firstly, it damages trust, the foundation of any successful relationship. Trust is what allows partners to feel secure and safe within the relationship. Without it, a sense of uncertainty and insecurity can permeate the partnership, causing it to suffer. Additionally, intimacy, which relies on open communication, empathy, and vulnerability, is compromised. Contemptuous behavior creates a barrier, preventing partners from truly connecting on a deep emotional level.


Contempt also has a tendency to escalate conflicts rather than resolve them. It transforms disagreements into personal attacks, making it increasingly difficult for couples to find

common ground. As a result, it becomes a breeding ground for resentment and bitterness, further driving a wedge between partners. The negative impact on mental health is another grave consequence of living with contempt. It can lead to feelings of depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem, ultimately affecting overall well-being. In extreme cases, contempt can escalate into emotional or even physical abuse. It's crucial to address contempt early on to prevent further harm to the relationship and the individuals involved.


Addressing Contempt in a Marriage


To combat contemptuous behavior, it's important to establish a pattern of open communication. Create a safe space for honest conversations, allowing each partner to express their feelings, concerns, and frustrations without fear of judgment. Practice empathy by striving to understand your partner's perspective, even if you don't necessarily agree. This fosters a sense of connection and mutual respect, essential for rebuilding trust. A trained couples therapist can also provide a structured environment and guide you through communication techniques to facilitate healing. Additionally, cultivate appreciation by expressing gratitude for each other's contributions to the relationship. Small gestures of kindness and acknowledgment can go a long way in counteracting contemptuous attitudes. Finally, set clear boundaries for respectful communication. Agree on what behavior is unacceptable and commit to treating each other with kindness and consideration, rebuilding the foundation of your relationship.


Contempt has the power to corrode even the strongest of marriages. Recognizing the signs and understanding its consequences is the first step towards healing. By implementing open communication, empathy, and seeking professional guidance, couples can work towards overcoming contemptuous behavior and rebuilding the trust and intimacy that form the core of a healthy, thriving relationship.


If you or your partner would like to learn more about contempt, feel free to reach out and schedule an appointment. I work with clients located in California.




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