Contempt in your relationship will destroy it.

How Contempt In Your Relationship Is Driving A Deep Wedge Between You

You used to feel close and loving towards your partner. You felt like you really understood them.  But slowly, criticism and defensiveness became the norm, and things changed between the two of you. Now, contempt in your relationship has destroyed the connection, intimacy and love. 

What Are Signs Of Contempt In A Relationship?

Dr. John Gottman, internationally renowned for his research on marital satisfaction and happiness, found that contempt is the worst of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (the four indicators of the end of a relationship) and the best predictor of divorce. 

Contempt includes name-calling, mimicking, dismissive body language like eye-rolling, a sense of superiority and verbally attacking the partner’s sense of self. 

Dr. John Gottman calls contempt “sulfuric acid for love” because it creates disconnection, a lack of respect and condescension.

What’s The Difference Between Criticism And Contempt?

Criticism is the least harmful of all the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, but it is still destructive. Dr. John Gottman defined criticism as an attack on the person’s character and explained that typical critical statements start with “you always” or “you never.”

On the other hand, contempt suggests that “I’m better than you.” With contemptuous statements, one partner will actively disrespect the other partner.

What Does Contempt Look Like In A Relationship?

Sometimes small actions or words can create contempt in your relationship. 

Watch for these 7 signs:

  1. Ignoring Your Partner – One sign of contempt is ignoring your partner. If you are looking at your phone, not listening and not taking time to connect, contempt may be starting to build. Being ignored can lead you to feel that your partner doesn’t care about you and you’re not important, which is the textbook definition of contempt.
  2.  Negativity – Our brains have a tendency to see only the negative and forget any positivity; therefore, it is easy to notice the things that bother you about your partner and all of the things they do wrong. When negativity seeps into all of the interactions and thoughts, it will corrode any love or connection. 
  3. Disrespectful Interactions – Partners should be equal.  Speak to each other with love and care and without foul language (unless it’s okay with both of you). Also, most partners do not like to be interrupted, made fun of or disregarded. Contempt in your relationship sounds like, “You’re an idiot,” “You’re so unloveable,” or “You look like a fat pig.” Sometimes partners with ADHD interrupt their partner unintentionally, but that’s different from intentionally disregarding and disrespecting your partner. 
  4. Correcting – Your partner may have forgotten something or made a mistake, but correcting them (especially in public) can be seen as a sign of disrespect and contempt. Partners do not want to be treated like a child and corrected. This correction could be worded a few different ways, including, “Don’t do it that way,” “Don’t you know anything?” or “Instead of doing X, do it this way” (which is your way). Maybe you never cook with the right spices, you never clean right, you can’t make any decision correctly, you can’t dress yourself, you can’t make good financial decisions and the bottom line is you never know the right thing to say.  If your partner is constantly reminding you about things like this, you may be experiencing contempt in your relationship.
  5. Teasing, Ridiculing, Embarrassing – No one likes to be mocked and spoken down to; these behaviors will not lead to a positive outcome. Sometimes partners are “ok” with teasing, but when your partner crosses the line of teasing to ridicule, this leads to hurt feelings and arguments. 
  6. Body Language – Sometimes you don’t need to say anything because your body says it all: ”I disapprove of what you are doing,” “you can’t get it right,” or “you are not good enough.” Watch for body language that can be interrupted as negative, disrespectful and critical.
  7. I’m right and you’re wrong – This attitude and statement leads to a sense of superiority and creates unbalanced power dynamics. You may be right and your partner may be wrong, but making fun of them for the error or not letting go of the mistake is like rubbing their nose in it (like you would a dog) This attitude leads to contempt in your relationship and will drive a wedge between the two of you.

Contempt in your relationship can create a sense of hurt and pain and damages the relationship at the core. Take time to learn these seven signs of contempt so you can rid of them in your relationship and create more happiness. 

Additional reading to support your relationship as you explore options for couples therapy and healing:

How To Discuss Relationship Problems Without Fighting

How To Communicate With A Man That Won’t Communicate

How Often Do Couples Fight And Should You Be Concerned?

ADHD & Relationships

Stuck In A One-Sided Relationship? Here’s How To Talk About It So Resentment Doesn’t Take Over


Lisa Rabinowitz

Lisa Rabinowitz, LCPC is a certified Gottman therapist working with couples in the US and internationally. Lisa has worked for many years with couples who have both diagnosed and undiagnosed ADHD. Her certifications and experience uniquely qualify her to support couples with relationship challenges that often feel insurmountable. Please reach out for a free 20-minute consultation with Lisa today.

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