Last week we talked about how criticism can damage your marriage. But there’s something even worse than criticism. It’s contempt.

When you feel contempt for your spouse, you believe he is beneath you. That he doesn’t merit being treated with respect. When you speak to your partner contemptuously, you are being mean, sarcastic, and condescending because you believe you are superior. It’s not always conscious, but it’s there.

Contempt: The Single Greatest Predictor Of Divorce Nancy'S Counseling Corner

“A two-year-old is more responsible than you. When will you ever pick up after yourself?”

Or another example:

“You stuff your face with donuts all the time. No wonder I find your body repulsive.”

These are terrible things that people say to one another. Sometimes one spouse says something mean and the other replies with something meaner, trying to one-up the other in the cruelty department.

Destructive speech isn’t the only way to demonstrate contempt. You can roll your eyes when your spouse speaks to show he is being stupid and you know better. You can mimic him, call him names, pretend you are joking when you’re really hostile.

Contempt is dangerous to your marriage because it’s the expression of negative thoughts that you’ve probably been harboring for some time. And contempt is usually an attack on the fundamental character of your spouse, so it’s a prelude to more conflict instead of reconciliation. It’s very difficult to solve problems when you feel disgust for your partner and your partner is receiving that message through your thoughts and deeds.

Contempt in your marriage is difficult to overcome. If your partner has earned your contempt and is, indeed, disgusting to you, perhaps you should consider putting an end to your relationship. But if you feel that you can combat contempt, then consider trying.

How can you combat it? Begin by expressing your needs without attacking your partner.

“I find it difficult to live in a messy house, and I need you to be more responsible about picking up after yourself. Can you please help me with that?”

When you both work together to build a respectful relationship, you can overcome contempt. But you have to change your ways from destructive to constructive, building a loving atmosphere. Think of why you got together in the first place. What wonderful attributes attracted you to your spouse? What happy times did you have in the past that you can recall and use to reconnect? What hard times did you conquer together?

Remember successes and good times together. Behave in a positive way toward your spouse while refraining from contemptuous behavior. This will eventually build a culture of love and respect. It may take awhile, but if your marriage is worth it, so is the effort.

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