• When is it over? How contempt can signal the end of a relationship

    “You’re such a selfish jerk. I hate you. Are you seriously going to walk away right now?”

    These are all words spoken in relationships that are in trouble. In therapy, they would be described as words of contempt – a toxic communication pattern that is present in relationships headed for divorce or continued conflict. Often the person speaking them looks furious, unreasonable, and downright cruel. What I’ve learned over time as a relationship therapist is that the partner who apprears the most out-of-control in session is usually the more wounded of the two. Here’s why:

    They are tired of talking kindly – According to the Gottman Institute, contemptuous words like those spoken above usually come from a person who has been dismissed, discounted, treated unfairly, or manipulated in an intimate relationship. The wounded partner is at the end of their patience and is tired of living in a relationship where their concerns are not heard.

    Their needs are met with defensiveness – In any relationship, both partners have unmet needs. In healthy relationships, needs are expressed gently to a partner who sees that need as an opportunity to show love and support to the partner they love. In unhealthy relationships, a partner can see needs as criticisms and something to deflect, dismiss, or defend. Defensiveness leads to contemptuous responses over time.

    They no longer trust their partner’s words  – Defensiveness, turning conversations against a partner, and stonewalling or refusing to discuss issues erodes trust and questions the partner’s honesty and integrity. This is a fertile ground for contempt to grow. The partner is caught in lies, refuses to take responsibility, furthering supporting a contemptuouse stance – liar, lazy, mean, selfish.

    What’s a partner to do? Repairing the relationship is extremely difficult at this point. It will require great patience and understanding on the part of both partners. Defensiveness has to change to ownership of wrongs, real repair and restitution has to be made to the wounded party, and a fresh, new commitment must be forged that is mutually beneficial to both partners. Is it difficult? Very. However, I have seen relationships healed and commitment be rebuilt.

    How do you start? Seeing a professional who can facilitate the healing process is usually the best place to start. Need someone to help? Give me a call at 850.450.7223 or make an appoinment in our secure client portal here. Can’t wait to meet you! https://believehopeinspire.securepatientarea.com/portal/calendar/weeks/.

    P. Dianne Presley, LCSW


    Believe, Hope, Inspire Wellness Services LLC


    Want more mental health tips and tools? Find other blogs here https://believehopeinspire.com/blog/

    For more information on contempt, and the other Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, read the Gottman’s book Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work.