Breaking Down The Four Horsemen of Marriage Decline: Contempt

Louis Laves-Webb, LCSW, LPC-S

January 8, 2024

In the study of marital stability and divorce prediction, Dr. John Gottman's research at The Gottman Institute has identified four key negative behaviors, known as "The Four Horsemen," that can predict the end of a relationship. Among these, Contempt is often cited as the most destructive, a clear indicator of marital dissatisfaction, and a predictor of divorce. At Louis Laves-Webb, LCSW, LPC-S & Associates, our team of couples and marriage counselors understand the deep impact of contempt in relationships and offer guidance on how to address and heal from its corrosive effects.

The Poison of Contempt in Relationships

Contempt goes beyond mere criticism. It involves expressing superiority over one's partner and can manifest in sarcasm, cynicism, name-calling, eye-rolling, or scoffing. This behavior communicates disgust and disrespect, deeply wounding the recipient and creating an environment of emotional abuse.

Examples of Contempt

  • Mocking your partner with sarcasm: "Oh, you're so brilliant, aren't you?"
  • Derogatory name-calling or using condescending language.
  • Nonverbal expressions like eye-rolling or sneering.

Why Contempt Is So Damaging

Contempt is particularly harmful because it conveys disgust. It's not just a complaint or a moment of frustration; it's an outright attack on someone’s sense of self. It cuts to the core of a person's identity and can erode the mutual respect foundational to a healthy relationship.

Transforming Contempt into Respectful Communication

The antidote to contempt lies in building a culture of appreciation and respect in the relationship. Here are some strategies that we focus on in marriage and couples counseling at Louis Laves-Webb, LCSW, LPC-S & Associates.

Identify and Express Appreciation

Regularly expressing gratitude and appreciation for your partner can counterbalance negative sentiments and rebuild a positive perspective on the relationship.

Cultivate a Habit of Mindfulness

Being mindful of your thoughts and expressions can help you avoid contemptuous reactions. This includes being aware of nonverbal cues like eye-rolling or scoffing.

Practice Active Listening and Empathy

Trying to understand your partner’s perspective and validating their feelings can foster empathy, a crucial antidote to contempt.

Seek to Understand Instead of Judge

When you feel superior or frustrated, try to step back and understand where your partner is coming from. Avoid jumping to judgment.

The Role of Therapy in Overcoming Contempt

Addressing contempt in a relationship often requires the help of a skilled therapist. In our sessions at Louis Laves-Webb, LCSW, LPC-S & Associates, we provide a safe space for couples to explore the underlying issues contributing to contemptuous attitudes. Our approach helps couples develop new ways of communicating and reconnecting on a foundation of mutual respect and understanding.

For Trusted Marriage Counselors in Austin, TX, Choose Louis Laves-Webb, LCSW, LPC-S & Associates

At Louis Laves-Webb, LCSW, LPC-S & Associates, we are committed to guiding couples through the challenging terrain of relationship dynamics. If contempt has cast a shadow over your relationship, know that change is possible. We invite you to reach out to our team of couples and marriage counselors to embark on a journey of healing and reconnection, laying the groundwork for a more respectful, loving, and fulfilling partnership.

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