When Familiarity Breeds Contempt

by | May 26, 2024

Let’s face it. Even in the most loving relationships, time can erode the feeling of extreme closeness. The intensity of sexual attraction wanes and romance becomes a sweet memory of the past. But when it devolves into a roommate or sibling-like relationship, it’s past time to take a look at what’s going on.


If you’re in this roommate phase, you’re probably crazy busy with work, kids, and trying to hold it together. But you could be in this phase even without all that busyness. Sometimes it just happens. Both partners feel competitive and combative and before they know it, they’re living in an atmosphere of judgmental anger and irritation. Both have suffered from repeated negative encounters with one another, and they’re both now in combative mode. They’re on the lookout for digs and slights and sometimes manufacture them where they don’t exit. And when they do exist, there’s glee in blaming their partner instead of exhibiting compassion and forgiveness.

Marriage Counseling, Relationship, Couples Counseling

Young Couple With Relationship Difficulties

How did they get so low?


A usual way people end up in this situation is by repeated, daily rejections from their partner. When one person makes a bid for his partner’s attention and his partner rejects him by ignoring him or worse, humiliating hm with a hurtful comment, then he has a negative response. Mind you, he’s been open and loving and his partner has shut him down. It’s hurtful.


It can be a small gesture or even a nonverbal cue asking for an acknowledgement, support, or an indication of affection. When one partner asks and the other refuses, the relationship suffers. When these refusals are repeated—these small everyday negative interactions—the quality of the relationship erodes. Partners feel less safe, not as close, less interested in romance and sex. As time goes on, they become lonely, isolated, and disconnected.


Partners often continue to exist as a couple, but they live in parallel universes. They avoid being rejected by avoiding interacting with their partner. They experience internal feelings of repeated rejection that make them become hostile, resentful, and fearful. They begin to see their partners as mean, selfish, disrespectful and all sorts of unhappy things. Obviously, these feelings cannot be sustained in a successful relationship.


Partners finally explode.


Both partners are avoiding conflict, and this can go on for quite some time until it doesn’t. Eventually pent-up anger and resentment come to the surface, sometimes in a dramatic way that shocks the other partner. They may be stunned by the vitriol and sheer anger their partner feels for them. They seem to fight more and more, with fewer and fewer guardrails until they crash, and the relationship is beyond repair.


Make a conscious choice.


When both partners become aware of the importance of responding in a positive way to even the smallest gestures, they can go a long way to building a healthy relationship. They can make a conscious choice to be considerate, kind, and attentive to their partner. It can make all the difference.



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



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