#2: Contempt

Posted on June 28, 2013


Screw You Insult Swear Cursive Writing in Envelope Note

John Gottman, therapist, psychology professor and founder of The Relationship Research Institute, is most well-known for his accurate predictions of marriage success or failure. In his popular and well-cited research, he uses four criteria in which to examine his newlywed subjects. If couples demonstrate these four ‘negative behaviors’ towards each other at the beginning of a marriage, the marriage will most likely end in divorce, usually within the next 5-7 years. Currently, Gottman’s research on marriage longevity cites a 87.4% accuracy rating.

As a relationship coach, Gottman’s research fascinates me. When I’m out with other couples, I always look for any of the four criteria. I notice when I engage in any of the negative behaviors in my own marriage. But most recently, I’ve started to realize that Gottman’s Four are pretty good indicators of lasting relationships across the board.

The #1 red flag for divorce is contempt. Partners that display contempt towards each other are headed in the wrong direction. But let’s expand this a little bit. Contempt in any relationship probably isn’t going to fare well.

Think of the last time you were the recipient of contempt. From a friend, from a colleague, from an in-law. Felt pretty shitty, didn’t it? How did you end up feeling about the relationship once the interaction was over (especially if an apology was never issued?)

That’s what I thought. 

I was once friends with a woman who felt the need to consistently display contempt towards me, and things that were important to me, whenever she got the chance. Her words and her tone, and even her nonverbals (she loved to roll her eyes whenever I would tell her about my latest creative idea for my business) showed me her disdain. 

After several years of this, I called her out on it. “From the rude remarks you make to and about me to the constant eye-rolling, you keep showing me how much you disrespect me,” I told her. “I’m not sure why you even want to be friends with me, if you have so much disdain for me.”

Her response? “I’m sorry you feel that way. You’re really overreacting.” (Even her reply was full of contempt!)

That’s when I finally decided to just. move.on. Because people who feel the need to be contemptuous towards you don’t have the qualities that a healthy relationship needs in order to survive the vicissitudes of life.

When you’re on a first date, and someone treats you with contempt, I want a big, red siren to go off. When you’re hanging out with new friends and someone feels the need to roll their eyes at you, I want you to take notice. When someone you’ve just started working with says something about you with disdain, beware and be weary. 

People who harbor contempt towards others are unhappy with their own lives. They are petty, they are bitter and they are jealous. They do not make good husbands. They do not make good friends. They will undermine you at work and backstab you at home. 

So when you first start a relationship and you see displays of contempt towards you, run far, very far, in the opposite direction. 

*If you interested in learning more about Gottman’s other three criteria, here’s an interesting article that explains it well.