I know a woman who received a hand-written letter from her boyfriend, expressing his love and adoration for her, while in college. His unique scrawl was on lined college notebook paper with frayed edging. Instead of focusing on what the words on the paper said, she zeroed in on the penmanship of her sig other.
“Well, if he really meant those words, he would have tried harder to make the handwriting better.”
I’m sure you know that this romance did not end happily ever after with the two involved. It rarely does when criticism and contempt take over.
Criticism and Contempt: Relationship Killers
It’s hard to connect when criticism and contempt are invited into the relationship between two people. According to John Gottman, the author of Why Marriages Succeed or Fail, found that contempt, criticism, and defensiveness were the main relationship killers.
Contempt expresses the feeling of dislike toward somebody, and implies that the other person is considered worthless and undeserving of respect. Criticism is similiar to contempt but it implies general worthlessness and inferiority.
Once a person starts seeing their partner as below them or their sig other’s efforts as meaningless, they have checked out of the relationship. Their focus is on the negative aspects — for that only reaffirms their thoughts that the other person is no longer worthy of my love and respect.
Contempt and Criticism Breed Contempt and Criticism
Once the two Cs creep into a relationship, it breeds and multiplies. It is not always verbal. Eye rolling and silent treatment can be just as devastating to a relationship as verbal criticism. Hostile reactions are a sign that the two people involved are not communicating (and, yes, this means listening to) with each other. The environment only escalates to a harsher, unbearable point where each person feels they can do no right in the relationship. Resentment starts to layer like an onion.
Work on How You Treat Each Other
According to Tom Moon, the key to resolving contempt and criticism conflicts in a relationship isn’t about “fair fighting” techniques or even better ways of discussing issues DURING the argument. Moon says that the key to “successful relationships was how the couple acts with each other when they WEREN’T fighting.” The key isn’t to focus on resolving conflicts (for some will never be resolved) but rather working deliberately on nurturing their mutual fondness and admiration for each other. Return to the honor and respect that was once in the relationship.
See What’s Right in the Relationship
What is needed is a shift from seeing only the “wrongs” your partner does to seeing what they contribute to you, your life and the relationship.Seeing the positive qualities in our partner multiplies our POSITIVE feelings for our loved ones. Positive communication in a relationship is appreciation, gratitude, affection, agreement, interest and smiles. It doesn’t have to be grand displays. A simple thank you for making dinner goes a long ways to reopening the sharing highway between two people.