What Causes Contempt in Relationships: Tips for Single Moms

Last Updated on January 24, 2024 by Lori Pace

Relationships can suffer due to many different reasons. There is one factor, however, that stands out as a predictor of trouble. That is contempt. Figuring out where the contempt come from and their differences in happy and unhappy relationships can help single moms prepare for their future (potential) love lives.

What is Contempt in Relationships?

Contempt is born from a sense of superiority that makes the other feel inferior. It is rooted in a feeling of being unappreciated and not acknowledged in the relationship. This can manifest in verbal and non-verbal language. It could include sarcasm or mockery. Many times, partners don’t realize what they did or said, particularly if it was a contemptuous gesture like an eye roll, chuckle, or any other discourteous behavior that provoked anger from their partner. Contempt escalates conflict situations, whether in words or actions. It’s not about the topic at issue, it is about attacking the worthiness of the person. It’s almost like saying “You are insignificant.”

Are You in a Happy or Unhappy Relationship?

The following is the discrimination between happy and unhappy relationships in the conflict model:

Expression of negative emotions

Expression of negative emotions

Happy couples express more anger and disappointment than unhappy ones. Unhappy partners are less positive or neutral towards the negative effect than their happy counterparts. Meanwhile, unhappy wives have more negative emotions than happy husbands. They preferred non-emotional interactions. In happy marriages, spouses viewed negative emotions of their partners as the need for attention.

Negative Affect Reciprocity

In relationships, unhappy couples often reciprocate negative effects with negativity. Negative reciprocity can be either in kind or escalation. The former case saw anger with a lower intensity negative affect, such as anger. For example, anger by criticism or contempt which leads to dissatisfaction in the relationships over time.

Negative Sentiment Override

Couples with past disputes can also be affected by negative emotions. These negative feelings dominated the conversations, as both partners reacted negatively to positive or neutral effects with negativity. Happy couples were able to see the positive side of their partners. Unhappy couples had a ratio of 1:1 positive to negative affect, while happy couples had a ratio of 5:1 during conflict and 20:1 outside of conflict discussions.

The Four Horsemen

Dissatisfaction was greater when couples solved the conflict. The unhappy women in cisgender couples displayed more contemptuously, defensiveness, criticism, and a greater level of dissatisfaction. Contrast this with the men who were unhappy, they displayed more contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling.

Emotional Disengagement

Unhappy couples often separate emotionally and start a second life. On average, unhappy couples tend to divorce within six years. However, couples that are emotionally disconnected, and who avoid conflict, divorce within sixteen years.

Contempt In Happy And Unhappy Relationships

Contempt In Happy And Unhappy Relationships

A longitudinal study of heterosexual married couples found that the wife’s contempt was a significant predictor of marital separation. Negative affect expressions associates with the wife’s perception of marital problems as severe. The wife’s belief that marital problems are not solvable does not correlate with her contempt expressions. Her husband’s contempt express negative associations with her belief that problems are not solvable.

Fixing the Contempt in Relationships

Soften Start-up

Start-up is the term for conflict that escalates from one partner’s neutral to the negative effect of another. Softening occurs when deeper emotions behind hard emotions like anger or contempt are revealed in a gentle way. You could say, for example, that you feel annoyed and stupid when your actions are corrected. Instead of criticizing and critiquing, it would be better to share that you appreciate and have faith in yourself. This would allow the partner to understand the concern better and help them empathize.

Appreciation and Fondness

Positive sentiments can act as a blanket during times of conflict. Couples who are positive about the relationship’s non-conflict times and show appreciation and gratitude for their partner tend to be more open to accepting the benefits of doubt. You can see it from a positive perspective. For example, “It must have been difficult for her with two children on hand. Let me know how I can help.”

Lori Pace
Lori Pace

Lori Pace is a single mother of three daughters ages 7 and under. As a working mom from home, she balances kids, work and two crazy dogs with humor and love. Follow Lori as she honestly gives tips and advice based on her own experiences as a single mom!