Part III: CONTEMPT
Annnnnd we’re back for part 3 of this 4 part series on Gottman’s Four Horsemen! Last week I left you with Action Step #2 – a somatic practice to cultivate awareness of your defensiveness and create space from stimulus to response so that you can engage with one another from a rooted and not reactive place. How did the notice, pause, allow go? What did the energy of defensiveness feel like in your body? Was it challenging to feel it and not lash out? Were you able to practice seeing your partner’s perspective and take responsibility?
As we move into the next Horsemen, things are going to get a little more serious because we’re working with the single best predictor of relationship dissolution. As a reminder from the first part of this blog series – if these patterns are present in your relationship, it does not mean that you are doomed or destined for divorce. What it does mean is that there are opportunities in your partnership that need loving attention – from BOTH of you! And this one is a warning bell. So listen up!
Antidote – Describe Your Feelings and Needs: Build A Culture of Appreciation
Contempt is the most destructive of the Four Horsemen and Gottman refers to it as “poisonous” for a relationship. Feelings of disgust are what fuel contempt, and this makes it nearly impossible to work through issues together when it’s present. To be contemptuous means acting superior, putting your partner down, and speaking scornfully. In short – we’re identifying our partner’s “mistakes” rather than seeing what we can appreciate about them. To spot contempt, look out for; sarcasm, cynicism, name-calling, eye-rolling, sneering, mocking, and hostile humor. Gottman also shares that couples who have a contemptuous relationship are more likely to experience infectious illnesses such as colds, flus, and so on – so pay attention to that as well.
What’s hiding underneath contempt are desires, needs, or wants.
Relationships become contemptuous when these needs are not met over time.
The antidote to contempt is to describe your own feelings and needs by using “I” statements (for some examples, check out Part 1 of this series and look for “Steps for a Gentle Start Up”).
Building a culture of appreciation is the all-encompassing antidote to contempt. When we feel valued and appreciated we are able to easily access positive feelings for our partner and are less likely to act contemptuously when we have a difference of opinion.
Building a Culture of Appreciation Includes:
1. Expressing Appreciation: “I appreciate your warm welcoming hugs when I come home from work each day.”
2. Expressing Thanks: “Thank you for all you do for our kids. They are really lucky to have you as their parent.”
3. Expressing Fondness & Admiration: “I am so proud to have you as my partner. Last night at the dinner party your enthusiasm was contagious.”
Example: Your partner criticizes that spending is out of control.
Contempt: “There you go again. Your reckless, irresponsible spending once again maxed out our credit card limit. You’re out of control! All you think about is yourself. I’ve made so many sacrifices for this family. I saved money this month, why couldn’t you? What have you done to contribute to this household?”
Antidote: “I feel frustrated about our finances and the amount we spend versus how much we save each month. I would like to have an agreement about a monthly budget and how much we can save each month.”
Let’s get intentional…
I have the BEST dog trainer for my pup Merlin, and she said something that stuck with me during one of our first training sessions – “Dogs react well to positive reinforcement and so do our romantic partners!”. This is right in line with the overarching antidote to contempt – building a culture of appreciation. While I want you to continue to practice describing your feelings and needs, at this moment I’m thinking it would be good for y’all to practice connecting to positive feelings for one another. This does wonders for being able to actually hold and receive feelings and needs.
Here are some simple ways Dr. Gottman suggests for expressing genuine appreciation, admiration, and respect:
Building a culture of appreciation is all about the little things. When we notice and share the small moments of love, our partner feels seen and cared for…which is what, moment by moment, eradicates contempt and fosters a culture of appreciation.
I’ll be with you next week for the final part! Now go be kind to another!
Loving this series and want to learn more about how to integrate it into your relationship? Schedule a free consult with Amanda here.
*Source for script: The Gottman Institute
Amanda helps teens, individuals, and couples create secure relationships within themselves and with each other. Her favorite (and most impactful!) tool to use is the Enneagram, which deepens awareness, understanding, and compassion so that we all can continue to foster meaningful connections in our day to day lives, moment by moment.
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