Making Relationships Thrive…Not Just Survive

Over the past two months we have discussed two out of the four intimacy destroying tactics John Gottman, Ph.D., identifies in his research: defensiveness and criticism. This month we’re moving on to the third, contempt, which is the greatest predictor of divorce.

Contemptuous statements are ones in which the speaker insinuates that he or she is in a position of superiority. Contempt conveys disdain for the other party and is often driven by long-standing negative attitudes and thoughts about one’s partner that are compounded by years of unresolved problems.

Contempt may also be expressed non-verbally, such as with eye rolling, sighing, sneering, and smirking.

Making a conscious effort to appreciate and respect your partner is the antidote to contempt.

Here are a couple of examples of contemptuous statements and their antidotes:

Example 1: “You always go shopping and spend money when you already have a closet full of clothes.” (Underlying message:” You’re an irresponsible and selfish person and I’m not.”)
Appreciation and Respect Solution: “That dress looks beautiful on you, but I’m concerned it is too expensive. I’d appreciate if we could sit down and talk about our long-term financial goals and figure out how much we can reasonably afford to budget for clothing. When can we meet?”

Example 2: “Do you have any idea how lucky you are? You come home every night and a hot meal is just magically waiting for you without having to lift a finger! Next time why don’t you make dinner yourself!” (Underlying message: “You’re ungrateful, lazy and spoiled and I do everything.”)
Appreciation and Respect Solution: “Hey Babe, I’d love to go to that new Thai restaurant with you Thursday night after my long work day so I don’t have to worry about preparing dinner. What do you think about making it a date night?”

Take an honest look at the underlying messages you deliver to your partner. Do you convey respect and appreciation? Or, are you secretly harboring resentments and ruminating on his or her negative traits? You can begin developing a culture of appreciation and respect in your relationship by making these simple lists daily:

• Identify five things that you love, admire, and appreciate about your partner
• Identify five things your partner did today that were thoughtful, generous, or sensitive

Use these exercises with anyone in your life who you might have negative thoughts about, not just in romantic relationships. And, you might even get bonus points for telling people the positive things you think about them. Go ahead! Give it a try and see if you can deepen and improve the relationships in your life!

I’ll be back next month to talk about another communication style that happens to be a close cousin to contempt and is equally as deadly to relationships. Until then, be well and love one another!