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Professional Columns -
Relationships by Dr. Bill Austin


The Righteous Brothers' song, "You've lost that loving feeling," is about the loss of love in a relationship. In Dr. Gottman's book he attributes four factors that can cause this loss of love. He calls these four factors, the Four Horseman. In this article, we will explore the one Horseman that Dr. Gottman's considers to be the most poisonous of the four. This horseman can be fatal to any relationship. It is the one expressed by looking down on our partner with disgust. The message of disgust is conveyed by name-calling, hostile humor, ridiculing, or sarcasm.  When our partner says something or asks a question, there is the rolling of the eyes and talking in a condescending way to our partner as though she or he is inferior or worthless. This negative and poisonous attitude is called contempt. Contempt is a habitual way of looking down on who the person is - not just his or her behavior. We can show contempt not only to our partner, but to such people as in-laws or fellow workers.

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If someone has contempt towards us, it feels like hate. Sarcastic remarks are made under the breath while we are talking. Sometimes, while we are talking to that person, they walk away before we are finished or are conveniently distracted. We could interpret their message is "you are nothing to me."

We know another person has contempt for us when they refuse to talk to us or even look at us. We experience a wall of sneering, mockery and hostile humor. In front of other people, condescending remarks are spoken about us.

If we are on the receiving end of contempt, we may try to shield ourselves by shutting down and not sharing anything with the contemptuous person.

How does contempt develop in a relationship? Contempt is fueled by long-simmering negative thoughts about the partner. Contempt grows out of the belief that person has deliberately and maliciously wounded us. We are more likely to have such thoughts if our differences are not resolved. If the complaints and wounds are not addressed, global criticisms emerge which in turn, produce more and more disgusted feelings and thoughts, and finally, we are fed up with our spouse.

One serious flaw with contemptuous attitude is that we are making one behavior or part of that person's personality say everything about him or her. It would help our attitude if we could see that there are other parts to that person's personality.

Health wise, we need to realize that bitterness, resentment, contempt, criticism, and negativity damages us more than the other person. Often those of us who have this attitude will experience health problems. Contempt kills our inner peace and joy. We need to find a way to work through our wounds with that person and learn to forgive them and ourselves.

Dr. Austin has decades of experience dealing with relationships. He charges clients on a sliding scale according to their ability to pay. His first book, Creating Our Safe Place: Articles on Healthy Relationships, was published in 2004. His second book, Keeping It Safe, was published in 2009 and can be purchased through,, and at the Parrish Book Store in Virginia Beach.  He is also a sought-after speaker at meetings and seminars.

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