So lets take a trip back to when you first started dating your partner. Chances are, you thought they were pretty awesome in a million different ways-and they had a cute butt which sealed the deal 😉 During this “honeymoon” phase fights were rare and makeups were passionate and wonderful. You guys talked about anything and everything from the meaning of life, to that weird thing that Kanye just did. Your partner’s little quirks were cute, even endearing, and you just KNEW that he/she was basically the only person you would ever want to be with.
Fast forward some time and you guys are still together. Possibly plus a kiddo or two. And that adorable quirk your partner has always had, really just pisses you off now. You’re tired of dealing with it and you don’t want to have to talk about it again because ain’t no one got time for that. So you throw in a snarky remark next time it happens. Maybe an eye roll for good measure. If you really want to go for the gold, you might add a few words under your breath that your kids can’t hear.
This, my friends, is contempt. And according to Dr. Gottman of the Gottman Institute, it’s one of the most destructive things in a relationship and a big predictor of divorce. The sneaky thing about contempt is that most couples don’t start out this way, and in fact, couldn’t even imagine thinking they could ever fall into this relationship sinkhole. But, when you add fun things like time and stress to a relationship, funky things can start to happen. And then, once one partner opens the door to contempt, the other quickly follows because, well unless you’re the most understanding person on earth, receiving those jabs are really going to piss you off. That’s how the slippery slope starts and by the time you end up on the couch in my office, we are dealing with years of hurt, anger and betrayal. And while I honestly believe that couples who do the work can make amazing things happen, there are some insults that are really hard to get past.
Not only is contempt corrosive to a relationship, it’s bad for your mental AND emotional health. Get this- Dr. Gottman’s research found that when partners are listening to contempt, their immune system declined. They could LITERALLY PREDICT how often someone would get an illness based on the amount of contempt that they received from their partner. WHOAH.
Fortunately, if you and your partner are sliding down the hill of contempt, there are things you can do both on your own and with the help of a professional therapist. Since, I love working with the research and techniques from the Gottman institute, I help couples first identify the damaging words and behaviors they are using and then help them to replace it. One way you can start doing this on your own is by being mindful about they way you interact verbally and non verbally with your partner. Are you calling names, rolling your eyes, muttering or insinuating that they are failing in some area? Are you throwing out terms like “lazy” or “crazy” or “selfish”? If you are, picture giant red signs with the words “STOP” flashing in front of you. And then, think about a way you could rephrase it, by asking for what you need instead of describing how they once again failed you.
A great book on working on the replacing the negative communication patterns couples can fall into is “The Relationship Cure” by Dr. Gottman. If you think you and your partner could benefit from some additional help, look for a professional therapist who specializes in couples work ( Psychology Today has a great free therapist directory). Don’t be afraid to ask a potential therapist questions about their experience and background in working with couples. You don’t have to settle for an unhealthy and miserable relationship.
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