People say contempt in a relationship is the biggest predictor of its failure. That’s because contempt is so utterly toxic. Sarcasm, mocking, name-calling, screaming, putdowns—all are hallmarks of contempt. Eye rolling and lopsided lip sneering are physical signs. Even a nasty tone of voice is an indication of contempt.

The Toxicity Of Contempt Nancy'S Counseling Corner


If your partner exhibits contempt it means he lacks respect for you, and more than that, he feels disgust for you. He rejects what you’re saying. He rejects who you are, at least in that moment in time. He clearly feels superior to you. He is dismissive of your feelings. He denigrates you. Even if he is only contemptuous once and awhile, it’s enough to seriously erode a relationship.

Here are some questions to ask yourself if your partner shows contempt:

  • What’s the ratio of positive to negative? If your interactions with your partner are mostly positive, then you are probably a relatively happy couple. But if, for every positive interaction you also have a negative interaction, you’re in trouble. If you and your partner commit to being more empathetic toward one another, you will find your relationship becomes more loving. Empathy is the opposite of contempt.
  • Can you live with unresolved discord? Even in the best of relationships, people have problems that won’t be fixed. Still, they can live happily if they are willing to accept that they agree to disagree on some issues. But that means they appreciate their partner’s stance and do not denigrate them for it. That means they are not arrogant about their supposedly superior stance. In other words, they don’t show contempt for their partner.
  • Is your partner happy for you in good times? Of course it’s important to have support when times are tough. But it’s also important to have someone to share good times with. If your partner is contemptuous, he may find it difficult to acknowledge your good fortune. If he is determined to be negative, he will want to reinforce that he has power over you. His contempt for you means he’s above you, and he’ll find it hard to be happy for you.

Contempt in a relationship makes you feel emotionally insecure. You can both work toward feeling more secure by focusing on emotions that are the opposite of contempt. Find areas of interest in which you can agree. Make an effort to show affection. Appreciate the little things your partner does. Show him gratitude when appropriate.

When your partner tries to connect with you, say, by mentioning something in the news, acknowledge what he’s saying. Even if you disagree, which you can do with respect. But if you dismiss him with contempt, then you sever the connection.

Too much contempt in a relationship is toxic, and will make you feel things are hopeless and cannot be repaired. It may be time to move on.


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