top of page
  • Writer's pictureeschaden

Contempt - the Beginning of the End.

There was a longitudinal study done where marriages were observed over time. The people whose marriages were observed were having issues which is what brought them to a therapist’s office in the first place. They followed these marriages for the next 20 years. And they got what is truly an incredible result...

For all the couples who one or both parties expressed contempt for their spouse in those first initial sessions, 94% of those marriages ended in divorce. 94%! That is statistically CRAZY! That is such a significant finding.

John Gottman confirmed the same in his 1994 study that contempt is the number one predictor of divorce within the first 6 years of marriage.

If you want to end your union, here are the ways to do it swiftly:

1. Contempt

2. Defensiveness

3. Stonewalling

4. Criticism

Now, if you actually like your spouse and would like to keep them around here are some things you can do to make your marriage successful:

1. Safety

2. Faithfulness

3. Commitment

4. Reliability

So which one are you doing?

In coaching, people are always so happy to tell me how awful their spouse is, how they take them for granted, do not help enough and are generally liars and cheats. Sometimes I have to wait awhile to ask the following:

How are you? If your spouse was here right now what would they say about you?

The conversation usually takes a nose dive right there. But if we can recover from that very hard question, then we can begin to do the work to figure out why you are in a marriage that isn’t working for you.

Sometimes, your spouse would say wonderful things about you even if you had nothing good to say about them at all. This is rare. And usually is an indicator that one party is in the relationship while the other has at least one foot walking out the door.

Relationships are work. A lot of work. And most people do not want to do the work. And I get that. But very few people expect to get a PhD without doing a great deal of very hard work over a protracted period of time...

I think marriages are the relationship PhD. If you are in one, whether you realize it or not, you have signed up to get one. And if you can stay the course, your life can be so much more rewarding. Selection of a partner that is going to be able to also commit to doing the work is essential. And if you have selected poorly, do you have a partner that is capable of altering course?

It is hard not to have contempt. Honestly, the longer a marriage continues, the more likely contempt shows up for dinner in your relationship. I don’t think if contempt makes an entry that you are doomed to divorce. I think that you must be ready for it, paying attention to whomever is displaying the contemptuous behavior and then be able to work on that. Both as a couple and as an individual. There is work for both sides.

Why is the person showing contempt? Is this a childhood issue left over and has festered? Is this misplaced self worth and esteem? Trauma?

Why is this other person accepting this behavior from their spouse? Is this a similarly forgotten remnant of a hard childhood? Trauma? Lack of worth or esteem?

Until and unless both parties see contempt’s arrival in the marital home, contempt is there to stay and well, likely flourish.

The antidote for contempt is appreciation. Cultivating an attitude and deeply felt feeling of worth for yourself and the other person. This is the only thing I know to dispel contempt from your marriage, relationship and home. You cannot feel contempt for someone you appreciate. It isn’t possible. But let me tell you how easy it is to feel for someone who you think is worthless or not offering very much. So easy you don’t even notice you feel it.

So I would say that first you must appreciate yourself. All the things that make you, you. Feel an affinity for yourself without letting that tip over into crazy self obsession, vanity and pompousness. If you truly appreciate yourself, then you likely have a more balanced view of your assets and limitations. And if you can see those in yourself, seeing them in your mate is easier and not so difficult when you find them.

Most people do not have contempt for their spouses because they are horrible people. It is something that comes quietly over time. It comes after safety is breached, broken words and promises, of repeated failures for each person to see their mate and find all the amazing things within them that attracted them in the first place. Contempt shows up while we are busy living our lives, being married and doing the deal. And I would wager that it is something that we bring to our marriages not something that just grows up there.

So if you are dating and you have contempt in that relationship, it is a sure bet you are going to have it in your marriage. Relationships should be safe havens. They should be solace from the horrors of the world. A place for respite and love and affection and value. But so often, we pick people to partner with who are simply not capable for any number of reasons. And then we marry them and expect that the work is over when it has really only barely begun.

If your marriage is in trouble, look to those four things above. Check yourself. Do you display these attributes? Why? And if you need help, see a coach or therapist to get to the bottom of your stuff.

While you cannot make your spouse do anything. I promise that if you do the work on yourself, you will come to find that it matters little what your spouse does or doesn’t do. Because once you have done your own internal work, it will grow you up and away from those persons who are incapable or unwilling to do their own work.

So if you are in a contemptuous relationship and want to fix that. I can help. I can help you attempt to work at your marriage and help you stay, I can help you figure out whether you two can work it out and I can help you figure out how to leave if that is the ultimate conclusion. Relational coaching can do amazing things for you and your relationships. First and foremost, it can identify exactly who is responsible for all this contemptuous conduct anyway...

Recent Posts

See All


Post: Blog2_Post
bottom of page