The Four Horsemen | Contempt
Couples Counseling | Columbia, Mo
And awaaaaaay we goooooo! (That's a Mario reference, just as an fyi).
Alrighty. Last, but definitely not least, we've got contempt.
Contempt is the most corrosive of all the four horsemen. And that's exactly what I tell my couples when they come in for couples counseling.
Contempt - What is it?!
In couples counseling terms, we see contempt as a moral superiority over one's partner. Basically, if you're contemptuous, you see yourself as better than your partner and as having the 'moral' high ground.
It's a dangerous road to go down. It's also the last horizon, so to speak. When people get to this point, they're generally at the very end of their tether, already stuck in the same old song and dance of going from criticism to defensiveness to stonewalling, and they're done.
Once you see yourself as better than another person, then there's no room for that other person to have opinions, feelings, or thoughts - in essence, almost everything they say is bunk because, well, you're 'better' than them and don't have value for their experience.
I've got contempt. WHAT DO I DO?!
Here's the deal, though. It's not as though it's unfixable. Most things (most, not all) are workable. Not necessarily resolvable, although that's a different post, but workable. Just because you have contempt for your partner currently doesn't mean that there aren't antidotes to working on your horsemen.
The first step in all of it is recognizing when it takes place. And it's easy to do that when you know how it looks, sounds, and feels.
Contempt looks, sounds, and feels like...
Contempt looks like the images on the right. It's a one-sided lip tightening. The images are pretty pronounced, also. It can be a look that stays on one's face or (frequently) it can be fleeting. A quick expression that's gone as quickly as it shows up.
It can also look like eye rolling and heavy sighing. Think about a teenager - they think their parent(s) are "sooo laaaame!" And this is punctuated by heavy eye rolls and big sighs. It's the same in adults.
Contempt sounds like hostile humor. It sounds like sarcasm (when it's not banter back and forth or when it's not received well), mocking, name calling, belligerence, goading, or verbal jabs.
Contempt feels like being belittled, condescended to, dismissed, or small.
There are more words and ways to describe contempt, but that's the long and short of it. Again, it's the most toxic or corrosive of all the horsemen. And it sucks to be embedded in that dance.
I'll say this, though. If you do it and want your relationship to work, then take heart. It happens to the best of us. And, importantly, even the happiest, healthiest couples have bad experiences with conflict (or even basic communication). The ratio of positive to negative interactions is much higher than in unhappy relationships, but it still happens.