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Married Life

Like Poison for Relationships…

Contempt. You’ve seen it on people’s faces before: curled lip, chin raised up, a sneer… maybe an eye roll. Think Sophie Mirabella during a medical emergency.

It’s an uncomfortable thing to be in the same room with. But what’s really awful is when you see someone look at their partner that way.

I talked last week about respect in relationships. Well, contempt is the mortal enemy of respect and once it creeps into your partnership, the end is as inevitable as Anastasia’s orgasms in 50 Shades.

As the cliché goes, familiarity breeds contempt. And there’s no one you’re more familiar with than your partner.

Contempt is the product of allowing resentment to build over months and years.

It may start as a small complaint or thought you have about your partner.

You start to focus all your attention on that complaint, you build more and more evidence to support it – looking only for the bad and ignoring the good – and before you know it your tiny grievance has leapt to stratospheric heights.

And suddenly, you flat-out hate what your partner is doing and you aren’t afraid to let it be known.

It shows itself in facial expressions and body language, which never betray our real thoughts.

It manifests in casual insults and snide remarks and even your tone of voice is a dead giveaway.

Leading relationships expert John Gottman believes that just by watching a couple interact with each other and analysing all of the above during their conversation, he can predict the future of that relationship with up to 94 per cent accuracy.

And the single biggest relationship killer he’s identified is contempt.

You may have caught yourself in the middle of it without even realising. Your partner seems only to be hurling nasty remarks at you lately.

Or perhaps it’s you who’s been rolling your eyes, becoming critical of your beloved’s every move.

The thing about contempt is that once it’s set in, it’s very hard to see your partner in a good light. It’s not a nice thing to be on the receiving end of.

Imagine what it’s like being with someone who thinks you’re worthless, who is always looking for the worst in you.

It doesn’t take long before contempt is met with defensiveness, and perhaps even matched with equal contempt… it can only spiral to worse from there.

Relationships simply can’t survive in such a toxic environment.

But don’t give up all hope just yet. You can snap yourself – or your partner – out of it if approached carefully and caught early enough.

Think: how are you adding to the problem? Be the one to break the cycle and help love and respect blossom again.

You need to quickly and consciously shift your focus back to the good things. Your partner isn’t as heinous as you’ve been making out. You always find what you look for.

Example: Stop reading this column and look around you for a moment. Pick out all the things that are red around you. Go on, I’ll wait.

Great, so you’ve found all the red things. Now tell me what you saw that was yellow.

You didn’t notice the yellow because you were too busy searching for the red. That’s how our mind works.

Stop searching for the worst parts in your partner and start to remember what you like about them.

What drew you to them in the first place? What things do you love about them? Try and see them from a stranger’s point of view.

Then go ahead and compliment them. Let them know they’re loved. They may be defensive or disbelieving at first, but this is only because they’re accustomed to your criticism.

This is only the start of repairing a toxic relationship, and can only work if you haven’t already done irreparable damage. Get professional help if you need it to work through it, and most importantly – stay positive and search for the positive.

Have you ever been in a relationship that turned toxic?

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Author |

Writer, dating columnist, wife, coffee addict, foodie, fashionista... Melburnian through and through. Muser, dancer, blogger, tweeter. Likes to get her head on telly now and again. Sleeper, dreamer, a sucker for romance. And of course... a cheap date.

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