Do you feel that you can’t do anything right in your partner’s eyes?
Has your partner actually catalogued all the reasons why your relationship might not be working—and all the reasons have to do with YOU?
Maybe you’ve heard a laundry list of character traits they want you to change:
You’re too negative, too uptight, too boring.
You take things for granted.
Maybe your partner has criticized you for the way you clean—or don’t clean—the house. Or the way you parent.
Sometimes, there’s no attacking at all, but rather a verbal stone wall between the two of you—a passive aggressiveness that keeps you on edge. There could be silence, pouting, or sneering.
You ask a question or try to start a conversation, and you get a one-word answer.
You try to point out that your partner’s behavior is painful, and you’re met with defensiveness, sarcasm, or both.
Whenever you try to “talk” about the relationship, things don’t get better—they just escalate.
If it feels like the person who once thought you were the best thing on the planet now looks at you with disgust—or even barely looks at you—then you’re dealing with contempt.
Contempt is the greatest predictor of separation and divorce. It is the one thing that will put you on the fast-track to splitting up.
My working definition of contempt is “being wired for negative.” In other words, your partner has decided something about you, and it’s not good. They’ve created a negative narrative about your personality, and they’ve made a strong case for all the reasons why YOU’RE to blame for the state of the relationship.
A contemptuous partner, having decided that you’re at fault, must then find supporting evidence for his viewpoint.
A contemptuous partner, having made her case, will view you through the very restrictive lens of “how can I make my partner wrong in order for me to be right”?
This is why it feels that no matter what you do, it’s never good enough.
Sometimes only one partner is on the receiving end of contempt. Often, it’s both. These relationships are marked by ongoing resentment.
The resentment can cause one or both partners to plot ways to leave, or they may simply decide to live parallel lives, acting more like roommates than soulmates.
No couple ever starts out contemptuous.
Contempt builds over time, like a slow-growing tumor. When partners first come together, they often prioritize the relationship over real-life responsibilities. As the relationship changes from courtship to committed relationship, tasks demand attention and roles begin to emerge. Unless couples have learned how to handle these changes in a healthy way, an imbalanced relationship system can start to take hold.
There may be discussion, debate, or complaint, but if the system doesn’t change, resentment will start to build—and contempt develops. Along the way, there may be anger, sadness, and loneliness.
The problem is that couples often wait until contempt is “big enough” to cause some real pain. At that point, it may be too late. Contempt will have drained all the good faith and positive feelings, so that a once wildly-in-love couple can barely be in the same room together.
If I can help a couple stop contempt from “spreading” throughout their entire relationship, then we can avert complete destruction.
There are palpable symptoms you can detect early on if you know what to look for:
Complaining: “You’re staying late at the office again?”
Making requests: “Could you please do more around the house?”
Blaming: “You never make time for us.”
As tiresome as these behaviors are, they are all attempts to bring more balance to the relationship.
These are common ways couples go about expressing their dissatisfaction when the privileges and responsibilities feel out of balance between them.
The problem is that complaining, making requests, and blaming rarely work to get you what you want. It’s just the opposite. And so, when these attempts to bring more balance to the relationship fail—as they inevitably do—contempt begins to set in.
The most common reason cited for divorce and separation is growing apart.
The most common cause of growing apart is resentment.
The most common cause of resentment is unfairness—the sense that I am not getting near as much as I am giving; that the returns are not commensurate with my investment.
In other words, the relationship feels unfair.
And when the relationship feels unfair, you have the perfect breeding ground for contempt.
That’s why it’s critical to address the unfair relationship system underneath the contempt and resentment.
If you’re complaining that your partner is working too much, what’s actually happening is that you feel it’s unfair that YOU don’t have the freedom to devote time to your own pursuits.
If you’ve been begging for more help around the house, what’s really happening is an imbalance of responsibility.
If you’re blaming your partner for never making time for you, there’s an unfair system at play if you’re the one who always plans social activities, holiday dinner invitations, and vacations.
When left unchecked, each of these scenarios will result in resentment, and ultimately contempt. Partners will eventually become emotionally distant.
When you address the underlying unfairness in a productive way, you avoid the unfortunate domino effect that ends with a once-in-love couple saying “we grew apart.”
Remember: if contempt is present in your relationship, this is a key symptom of an unfair relationship system.
When couples have an imbalance in responsibilities or privileges, there will always be resentment and eventual contempt—which can destroy your relationship.
That’s why addressing the underlying issue of fairness is key to ending the arguments and preventing contempt, and that’s where I can help.
You see, I spent my 40+ year career as a clinical practitioner in marriage and family therapy helping couples identify the hidden forces behind their recurring problems and conflicts, and teaching them the skills they need to repair and regenerate their relationship. When couples learn what’s really behind their dissatisfaction and disconnection, and what steps they need to take together, they finally have hope that they can create an equitable, fun and supportive relationship that lasts.
Now I’ve partnered with Flourish, so I can extend that help and guidance to as many people as possible, since almost all couples can benefit from the clinically-proven, research-based principles on how to strengthen and revitalize their love.
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I like to say that I’m in the “anti-regret” business. I hate to see perfectly good couples self-destruct unnecessarily. There’s a way out of contempt: Early detection. Address the system, not the symptom.
May you have an extraordinary day,