Contempt in Relationships: Signs, Risks, and Solutions

what is contempt in a relationship

Relationships should be about love, support, and mutual respect. However, sometimes unhealthy behaviors like contempt can develop. If you’ve ever felt belittled, disrespected, or looked down upon by your partner, you may have experienced contempt in your relationship. Get to know what contempt is in a relationship, identify signs to watch out for, and discuss ways to address this issue before it causes too much harm.

What is contempt in a relationship?

When you feel contempt for someone, you dislike or look down on them. In a relationship or marriage, contempt shows disrespect, sarcasm, and a sense of superiority towards one’s partner.

Unlike other negative emotions, the definition of contempt in a relationship carries an air of moral condemnation, where one sees the other as inferior or unworthy of respect. This dynamic can severely damage the emotional bond between partners and erode the foundation of their relationship.

When one partner shows contempt, they might:

  • Mock or ridicule their partner
  • Call them names or use hurtful language
  • Roll their eyes or make rude gestures
  • Treat their partner as inferior or incompetent
  • Constantly criticize or belittle their partner’s opinions, thoughts, or actions

Contempt is one of the most harmful behaviors in a relationship because it conveys disrespect and superiority, which can deeply hurt the other person’s self-esteem and emotional well-being.

What are the signs of contempt in marriage?

While contempt can occur in any relationship, it’s particularly damaging in a marriage, where partners have committed to a lifelong journey together. Here are some signs that contempt may be present in your marriage:

  • Frequent sarcasm and mockery: If your partner consistently uses sarcastic remarks or mocks you, even in front of others, it’s a sign of contempt.
  • Eye-rolling and dismissive gestures: When your partner rolls their eyes, sighs heavily, or makes dismissive gestures while you’re speaking, it conveys a lack of respect and contempt for your thoughts and feelings.
  • Condescending tone: If your partner speaks to you condescendingly or patronizingly as if they’re talking to a child or someone inferior, it’s a clear sign of contempt.
  • Constant criticism: While constructive criticism can be helpful if your partner constantly puts you down, criticizes your every move, or belittles your achievements, it’s a form of contempt.
  • Lack of emotional support: In a healthy marriage, partners should be able to rely on each other for emotional support. However, if your partner consistently dismisses or mocks your feelings, it shows contempt and emotional neglect.

What are the examples of contempt in a relationship?

To understand what contempt looks like in a relationship, here are some examples:

  • Financial Disagreement: During a disagreement about finances, one partner says, “Typical, you’re always so irresponsible with money. You need to be watched all the time like a child..”
  • Household Frustration: After a long day at work, one partner comes home to a messy house. Instead of communicating their frustration constructively, they roll their eyes and sarcastically remark, “I see you’ve been busy as usual.”
  • Dismissive Response: One partner shares a new idea or interest, only to be told, “That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard. You’re always coming up with these crazy ideas.”
  • Humiliating Joke: During a social gathering, one partner makes a joke at the other’s expense, leading to laughter from others while their significant other feels humiliated and belittled.
  • Constant Criticism: One partner constantly criticizes the other’s appearance, intelligence, or abilities, making them feel inadequate and worthless.

What are the possible effects of contempt in a relationship?

Contempt in a relationship can have severe and far-reaching effects on both partners and the relationship as a whole. Here are some of the primary consequences:

  • Eroded Trust and Intimacy: Contempt damages the trust and intimacy vital for a healthy relationship. When one partner treats the other with disdain all the time, it makes it hard to connect emotionally.
  • Low Self-Esteem: The partner who is the target of contempt often experiences a decline in self-esteem. Constant criticism and belittling make them feel inadequate and unworthy, impacting their overall well-being.
  • Increased Conflict: Contempt leads to more frequent and intense arguments. The negative emotions associated with contempt can escalate conflicts, making resolution difficult.
  • Emotional Distress: Both partners can experience significant emotional distress. The partner showing contempt may feel justified but increasingly frustrated, while the targeted partner may feel hurt, anxious, and depressed.
  • Breakdown of Communication: Effective communication is essential for resolving issues in a relationship. Contempt undermines open and respectful dialogue, making addressing and resolving conflicts challenging.
  • Loss of Connection: When people are angry at each other, it can hurt their relationship over time. The relationship may feel more like a battleground than a supportive partnership, leading to feelings of loneliness and isolation.
  • Potential for Relationship Breakdown: If contempt is not addressed, it can ultimately lead to the end of the relationship. The continuous negative impact can make reconciliation and rebuilding the relationship increasingly difficult.

Recognizing the effects of contempt in a relationship is crucial for taking steps to address and overcome this destructive behavior. Couples can work to heal and rebuild their relationship by talking to each other more clearly, showing respect, and getting professional help if they need it.

How to deal with contempt in a relationship?

Both people in a relationship must work hard and be committed to dealing with contempt. Here are some strategies to address and overcome this destructive behavior:

  • Recognize the Problem: The first step is acknowledging contempt in the relationship. Both partners must know how their actions and words contribute to the issue.
  • Improve Communication: Focus on communicating more effectively and respectfully. Active listening means hearing and understanding what your partner is saying without jumping in or passing judgment.
  • Show Appreciation: Tell your partner how much you appreciate them and thank them regularly. Bring out their good traits and thank them for their hard work. This helps to counteract the negative feelings associated with contempt.
  • Seek Therapy: Consider couples therapy to work through underlying issues. A trained therapist can give you tools and strategies to improve communication, settle disagreements, and build trust again.
  • Address Underlying Issues: Identify and address the root causes of contempt. This could be unresolved conflicts, unmet needs, or long-standing resentments. Working through these issues can help reduce feelings of disdain.
  • Practice Empathy: Learn about how your partner feels and what they see. Empathy can foster a more receptive and understanding relationship by bridging the emotional gap that contempt creates.
  • Set Boundaries: Establish clear rules for respectful behavior. Decide together what is and isn’t okay, then hold each other accountable for following these rules.
  • Rebuild Trust: Trust is essential for overcoming contempt. Show that you are committed to making suitable changes in your relationship by being consistent in what you do and keeping your promises.
  • Foster Positivity: Create positive interactions and shared experiences. Spend quality time together, engage in activities you enjoy, and build a reservoir of good memories to draw upon during difficult times.
  • Commit to Change: Both parties must accept the necessary changes. This includes being patient, forgiving, and supporting each other’s efforts to improve the relationship.

Using these strategies, couples can work to overcome contempt and build a better, more respectful relationship. It takes time and effort, but with dedication and mutual support, it is possible to move past contempt and strengthen the bond between partners.

Survive Contempt in Relationship Together!

Contempt in a relationship is a harmful behavior that can destroy love, trust, and intimacy. By understanding what contempt is, recognizing its signs, and taking steps to address it, couples can rebuild respect, communication, and emotional closeness. Every relationship has challenges, but with commitment, empathy, and teamwork, it’s possible to overcome contempt and create a more positive and harmonious relationship.


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