Contempt: A Sign Your Marriage Is in Trouble

by | Mar 26, 2013

There are as many reasons for troubled marriages as there are people in them. Surely infidelity is a big one. One partner\’s selfishness is another. Disrespect for your partner\’s opinions and feelings will certainly damage a relationship, as will a lack of emotional intimacy, communication and affection. A need to get your own way through control, manipulation or abuse is devastating. The list goes on.

But the number one sign your marriage is in trouble is contempt.

Contempt: the feeling that a person is beneath consideration, worthless, or deserving scorn.

No wonder contempt is a red flag for problem marriages. How might someone show contempt? Perhaps you blame or criticize your spouse in such a way that you clearly demonstrate she is inferior and you are superior. Or maybe your tone of voice has a sharp, demeaning edge to it. Even your facial expressions or body movement can betray your contempt. A roll of your eyes at something your spouse says can signal you are so much better, smarter, sharper than he is.

In short, contempt is not a good sign for longevity in marriage.

What Eleanor Roosevelt said is true: “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” But if you are married to someone who constantly criticizes you and puts you down, it is tough on your self-esteem. Even more difficult is someone who holds you in contempt because that person feels so superior to you that you do not rate basic human consideration.

Sometimes, as we discussed last week, people who think themselves superior suffer from narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), and need help. If you are married to someone with NPD, you may need help as well. When your spouse puts you so beneath him or her that you do not receive even the minimum of respect, it is harmful to you. And, over time, it is this contempt that is the most damaging to the relationship.

If you are in a relationship in which you are treated without respect, you can insist on a certain level of civility or you will withdraw from the conversation. You can tell your spouse that you will not tolerate certain behavior and make sure he or she understands the consequences of the bad behavior.

But if your spouse does not value you or your thoughts, it is tough to change the way he or she thinks. This person, who ostensibly loves you, also knows you well enough to know what hurts you the most. If he or she is deliberately pushing your most painful buttons to control or upset you, you may be able to do little to change the way he or she thinks other than suggest therapy.

One thing you can do for yourself is get help. This act alone may require courage. But keep in mind another quote from Eleanor Roosevelt: “You must do the things you think you cannot do.”


Nancy Travers is an Orange County Counseling professional.  If you need safe, effective counseling services, please get in touch.  You can reach her here:



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