Contempt Could Be Creeping Into Your Relationship. Here's How To Reset

When the honeymoon phase comes to an end and the fairytale dust starts to settle, couples are able to see a more clear picture of their partner that could make or break the relationship. A heated debate that turns into an argument or a short stint of the silent treatment can be normal forms of handling arguments with your partner. But there are certain styles of arguing that could have damaging effects on a developing relationship over time. Ones where contempt comes into play and can turn lovers into enemies.

Researchers consider contempt to be one of "The Four Horseman," or toxic behavioral patterns, in relationships. Examples of contempt include mocking someone, sarcasm, making condescending remarks, rolling your eyes, and more. Any form of contempt in a relationship can be harmful and cause the romance to eventually die out. Experts even see contempt as one of the conflict styles that can lead to an unstable marriage and have cited the early signs to look out for. "Contempt is when you disregard your partner's feelings and treat them as someone who is not worthy of consideration," sex and relationship researcher Kristen Mark told The Knot. It also stems from "issues that build up and aren't addressed," added couples therapist Tracy Ross. "It becomes a habit. You start giving yourself permission to act a certain way with your partner."

If you're noticing signs of contempt in your relationship, there are ways to take action.

Communication is key to combatting contempt in your relationship

As with any conflict resolution, communication is key. American psychologist Dr. John Gottman suggests the "softening" approach, where the underlying vulnerabilities of strong emotions are shared with a calm approach. Instead of displaying the assertive body language and behavior associated with contempt, one just expresses what actions from their partner heighten their defenses and how it makes them feel. For example, "I feel ignored when you're rolling your eyes when I'm speaking." Honesty could help your partner better understand your concern and offer empathy rather than criticism. 

Relationship experts even note the accountability that comes with talking things out with your spouse. "Describe your own feelings and needs to your partner and get into the habit of doing this regularly," Mark explained to The Knot. It's especially important for one to sit down with themselves and identify their personal feelings and doubts about the relationship. Asking yourself what you truly want out of the relationship, how you think you're making your partner feel, and whether or not you're truly happy are questions to consider when doing a self-check-in prior to opening up to your significant other.

If you're guilty of contempt, you might benefit from some soul searching

Think you're guilty of displaying contempt in your relationship? It might be time to do the necessary soul searching that could be the underlying factor of your frustrations. The Gottman Institute notes that contempt is the display of negative emotions, which means it can be combatted by identifying the root of the negativity and addressing it in a more positive way. Therapy, meditation, or time alone can help put you in the space to get clear about your feelings. Choosing peace rather than festering on the frustrations of a situation. Maybe even take some time to remember the start of the relationship and what made you fall for your partner in the first place. The fondness could reset your appreciation for your spouse and reignite the spark that contempt might've fizzled out. 

Once you've identified the areas of contempt in your relationship, experts note the time it can take to rebuild the broken areas. "You have to devote time to building the positive, not just eliminating the negative," couples therapist Tracy Ross suggested to The Knot. Couples willing to be more vulnerable with one another have stronger chances of reconnecting, with appreciation being at the root of combatting contempt, as noted by Dr. Gottman. Expressing your feelings in a softer tone or even being the bigger person can help change contempt in your relationship.