What comes to mind when you think of the word contempt? When I think of contempt, I picture someone with a scrunched up face, thinking about someone he or she cannot stand – someone who makes his or her blood boil – someone who has caused him or her deep pain and frustration. Whatever you think of when you think of the word contempt, you probably have the right idea.
Dictionary.com defines contempt as the feeling with which a person regards anything considered mean, vile, or worthless; disdain; scorn; or, the state of being despised; dishonor; disgrace. When contempt enters into a relationship, you can bank on the fact that both partners are incredibly frustrated, bitter, and have little hope that circumstances will change. Issues have gone unresolved for so long that the desire to abuse each other has prevailed.
In Dr. John Gottman’s book (Why Marriages Succeed or Fail… And How You Can Make Yours Last), he lists some signs of contempt in a relationship:
- Hostile Humor
- Body Language
Luke 6:45 says, “The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” (ESV) When a couple begins to use insulting phrases like, “You’re a fat jerk,” or “if your IQ went up three points, your IQ would be a 3,” there is obviously ill will, anger, and contempt for each other in their hearts.
Someone I dated in high school would call me heifer instead of Heather. He said it as a joke, but it was obviously hurtful. Such hostile humor in marriage is used as a way to jab at each other’s hearts. Remember that hurt people hurt people. There isn’t a bully alive that isn’t hurting themselves (not that it justifies their behavior in any way).
Mockery is childish, but adults everywhere engage in mocking their spouses (and others) daily. Men mock their nagging wives. Wives mock how their husbands talk and work – making them seem and sound like unintelligent cavemen. Mockery is often done behind the other’s back in the presence of other people. However, when couples get to a point where they truly do not care anymore, they will mock each other openly in front of each other.
Body Language communicates more to others than our words. If I look at Eric with a contemptuous frown, put my hand on my hip, roll my eyes and say, “I love you,” is he going to believe me? Of course not! Our words and our body language work together to show someone how we feel. If I’m sobbing and Eric asks why to which I reply, “I’m hungry,” he’s probably not going to believe me (unless I’ve been fasting for a significant period of time).
When a couple finds themselves scoffing, eye rolling, and giving the cold shoulder to each other, it’s time to evaluate the relationship and counseling is needed. Counseling allows for an outside party who has a completely objective point of view to provide mediation and insight as the couple works through their issues.
Contempt left untreated will cause your relationship to die. You may stay married, but intimacy and trust can’t stay intact when contempt is being spewed as a way of life. At some time or another, we will all say or do something to hurt our spouse’s heart, but a healthy couple will apologize and talk the underlying problem out.
Constant insults will break your spouse’s heart, even if he or she puts up a front and fires insults back at you. When we break a physical item, we can glue it back together, but it is never the same as it was before it was cracked. When we cut ourselves, we eventually stop bleeding, but scabs and scars follow. Hearts that are constantly subjected to harsh conditions become hard and calloused. A hardened heart protects itself from being broken, but it can’t open up to give or receive love.
Dr. Gottman has a test in his book called, “Self Test: No Respect.” As with the last post, I would recommend purchasing this book and taking the test. In the meantime, take note of how you respond to your boyfriend/girlfriend, fiancé/fiancée, or spouse when he or she angers or hurts you. Can you see contempt developing in your relationship?
How do you respond to your significant other when he or she is acting in contempt? Do you act in contempt?