The Four Horsemen Part Three: Contempt

“Contempt is any statement or non-verbal behavior that places oneself on a higher plane than one’s partner.” (John Gottman – The Marriage Clinic).

Contempt can take many forms. Common expressions of contempt include mockery, ridiculing your partner’s grammar, feelings, thoughts or beliefs, and non-verbal facial expressions that send the message, “You’re an idiot.” The most common, contemptuous facial expression is the “eye roll” combined with an upturned corner of the mouth. It’s a look that says, “Give me a break,” or “I’m better than you.”

John Gottman discovered that a certain number of these corrosive, contemptuous facial expressions by husbands could actually predict the number of infectious diseases their wives would have over the next four years. When wives were contemptuous, their husbands’ illnesses became predicted by how lonely the husbands felt in the marriage.

Humor is often used as a “cover” or an excuse for contempt. “I was just joking” is a way to justify this behavior. Jokes are not healthy or helpful if one’s partner isn’t laughing. Healthy humor will bring people together. Contempt rips relationships apart.

The solution for contempt is for partners to view and treat each other as equals. Mutual respect and empathy, even in the midst of differences, is essential. Contempt is the most destructive of the Four Horsemen and must be eradicated from the relationship if it is to thrive.



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