Author: Todd Baratz
Contempt is bad for all relationships – especially romantic/sexual partnerships.
So what is contempt? Contempt is a characterological attack in the form of disrespect, mockery, name calling (e.g. selfish – a common one), and or condescension. It is saying, “I’m better than you because you are ________.” It is disconnection in the face of disrepair.
Your relationship is in big trouble and will likely end if you’re contemptuous. (The same could be said about inward contempt. When we are contemptuous towards ourselves, we’re usually majorly struggling.) Contempt usually expresses a yearning for the other person to change or for things to be different. But when you express contempt in the face of that desire for change – you guarantee that change will never happen.
If you’re being contemptuous – acknowledge and accept it – and understand that your critiques of your partner are inherently biased.
It’s easy to say, “Don’t be contemptuous.” It’s harder to actually acknowledge and work through contempt because it is likely in service of complex experiences from the past/present/future. Outward contempt often covers up inward contempt and or some form of pain.
The antidote to contempt:
1. Recognize and accept that you’re being contemptuous
2. Reflect on what the contempt is in service of
3. Communicate how you’re feeling
4. Communicate your needs
If you’re not able to let go of contempt and judgment, this is a bit of a wake up call. If this is the case, it’s likely that your relationship is unsatisfying and will not change.
If you can’t let it go, it could be time to let go of the relationship. It’s not fair to you or your partner – the dynamic is quite awful and full of pain. You will end up really hurting your partner – the communication is, “You’re not good enough for me – now change.” And when we’re rigidly holding on to contempt for a partner we communicate to ourselves, “I don’t deserve the more I seek.”
Take responsibility for yourself and recognize when your contempt has crossed the line. If you can’t let it go – the conversation is no longer about your partner – it’s about you and your desire for a different partner.
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Todd Baratz is a licensed personal and couples psychotherapist, podcast host, and writer who specializes in relationships and sex.
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