Communication Killers: Contempt

Counseling Austin - Communication and Contempt


Contempt – The 3rd Horseman

con·tempt /kənˈtem(p)t/
  1. the feeling that a person or a thing is beneath consideration, worthless, or deserving of scorn.
    “he showed his contempt for his job by doing it very badly.

Contempt in Relationships

Contempt is a feeling of worthlessness and scorn towards a person or a thing. In relationships, it takes on a slightly different meaning, but it is no less destructive. It is the communication of utter disrespect, a rejection of another person’s worth, and it is even worse than hatred. When contempt is present, the person arguing will frequently degrade their partner, call them names, and show facial expressions of disgust. This behavior is toxic and can destroy relationships if not addressed.

How to Address Contempt in Relationships

In Gottman Couples Therapy, we offer two antidotes to combat contempt: communication and appreciation.

Communicate Your Needs and Feelings

Being mindful of your own potential for contempt is essential. When you bring self-awareness to the table, you are better able to head it off at the pass. Instead of lashing out, use I-statements to express your feelings and needs. For example, say “I feel ____ when it seems like I’m not being heard” and “What I need is ______” instead of “I need you to stop ______.” By doing this, you communicate your feelings and needs effectively without degrading your partner.

Cultivate Fondness and Appreciation

It’s essential to cultivate the opposite of contempt by showing appreciation and fondness towards your partner. Regularly look for reasons to show that you love and enjoy spending time with each other. Share at least one passionate kiss each day, not just a quick peck, but a real kiss that gets the fire going. Do those little things like dragging your hand across your partner’s back as you walk behind them. Tell them how impressed you are with their accomplishments, their focus, and their desire to learn. By doing these things, you create a positive environment that makes contempt less likely to take root.


Contempt is a communication killer. It communicates utter disrespect, and it is worse than hatred. To combat contempt, you must communicate effectively and cultivate fondness and appreciation toward your partner. With these antidotes, you can create a healthy relationship built on respect, love, and understanding.

*Updated July 10, 2023

To learn more about red flags to look out for and how to fix them, please visit my Couples Counseling page.

Jonathan F. Anderson, LPC-s has worked in the helping profession since he started college in 1990. After completing his Bachelor’s degree at the University of Texas, Austin in 1994, he attended the highly-regarded University of Minnesota to earn his Master’s degree in 1997. He is a Licensed Professional Counselor and is recognized as a Board Approved Supervisor by the State of Texas Board of Examiners of Professional Counselors. Jonathan has completed Level-2 of the Gottman Method of Couples Counseling, and in 1998 received training from the International Critical Incident Stress Foundation in Advanced Critical Incident Stress Management & Debriefing. To learn more about Jonathan’s practice, click here: Jonathan F. Anderson, LPC-s.

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