Marriage is a beautiful union that brings two people together in a bond of love, trust, and mutual respect.

However, like any relationship, it is not immune to challenges. One such challenge that can silently erode the foundation of a marriage is contempt. Contempt in marriage often manifests subtly and gradually escalates over time, making it one of the most destructive elements in a relationship.


Understanding Contempt in Marriage


Contempt is an intense feeling or attitude of regarding someone as inferior, base, or worthless—it’s more than just irritation or anger. It’s a mix of anger and disgust, often expressed through sarcasm, cynicism, name-calling, eye-rolling, sneering, mockery, and hostile humor. In a marriage context, contempt can be seen when one partner consistently feels superior to the other.


Renowned relationship expert Dr. John Gottman refers to contempt as one of the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” for marriages because it conveys disrespect and causes emotional distance between partners. It’s important to recognize signs of contempt early on and take steps to eliminate this toxic behavior from your relationship.


Examples of Contempt in Marriage


1) Sarcasm and Cynicism:


Sarcasm might seem harmless initially but when used as a tool for expressing disdain or superiority over your spouse; it becomes an expression of contempt. Similarly, cynicism in conversations shows lack of respect for your partner’s opinions or feelings.


2) Non-verbal Signs:


Non-verbal cues like eye-rolling or sneering are potent signs of contempt. These gestures convey disrespect and disregard for your partner’s thoughts or feelings. 


3) Name-calling and Insults:


When disagreements escalate into name-calling or insults aimed at belittling your spouse; this is clear-cut contemptuous behavior. Using derogatory terms or making hurtful comments about your partner’s character or appearance is a sign of deep-seated contempt.


4) Hostile Humor:


Humor can be a healthy part of any relationship, but when it becomes hostile or used to mask passive-aggressive jabs at your spouse, it is a form of contempt. Jokes that put down your partner or make them the butt of the joke are disrespectful and damaging.


The Impact of Contempt on Marriage


Contempt doesn’t just create an unpleasant environment in a marriage; it can have serious long-term effects. It erodes the emotional connection between partners, leading to feelings of isolation and loneliness. This emotional distance often results in less communication, increased conflict, and can even lead to infidelity or divorce if not addressed.


Moreover, research has shown that contempt doesn’t just affect emotional health but physical health as well. Couples who regularly express contempt are more likely to suffer from infectious illnesses like colds and flu due to weakened immune systems.


Addressing Contempt in Your Marriage


Recognizing contempt is the first step towards addressing it. If you notice any signs of contempt in your marriage, it’s crucial to take immediate action. Open communication is key. Discuss your feelings with your partner without blaming or criticizing them. Use “I” statements instead of “you” statements to avoid sounding accusatory—for example, say “I feel hurt when…” rather than “You always…”.


Seeking professional help from a marriage counselor can also be beneficial. A trained therapist can provide tools and techniques to help you communicate more effectively, rebuild respect, and foster a healthier relationship dynamic.




Contempt in marriage is a silent killer that slowly but surely undermines the foundation of trust and respect that every relationship needs. Recognizing its signs early on and taking proactive steps towards resolving issues can help couples build stronger, healthier relationships based on mutual respect and understanding.


Remember: every person deserves to be treated with respect and dignity, especially by the person they’ve chosen to spend their life with. Don’t let contempt rob you of the joy and love that marriage can bring.


Courtenay Monfore, a Marriage Counselor in Charlotte NC, Can Help


As a marriage counselor in Charlotte NC, I specialize in couples and marriage counseling in Charlotte NC using EFT. If you are looking for Charlotte couples counseling, I offer online and in-person therapy to help your relationship succeed. Please contact me today. I am here to help support you on your path.