Tag Archives: contempt

Contempt, Lying & Outside Relationships

“Song of Maui” by Mimi Stuart ©

My boyfriend is texting, calling, and attempting to meet up with his ex or another new girl every time we have a (terrible) fight and he lies about them. I know he’s sick and tired of our constant fights and we have issues such as contempt/disrespect from my side and communication/withdrawal/leadership issues from his side.

Should I just be a big girl and ignore these behaviors as there is no physical cheating yet? Are these behaviors harmless?


Dear M,

The behaviors you are each engaged in are very destructive to the relationship.

Contempt and disrespect

You say you treat your boyfriend with contempt and disrespect. No relationship can withstand contempt for long. Often people are disrespectful because they blame their frustrations on their partner and don’t know how to effectively express those frustrations.

Let’s focus on you. You obviously do not feel good about yourself and your behavior in this relationship. Consider John Gottman’s research that shows that if 80% of communication is not positive between a couple, that relationship will disintegrate. As you really only have control over your own conduct, eliminate your disrespectful behavior and your life will improve whether or not you stay with your boyfriend.

To sustain a good relationship, you need to clearly and respectfully communicate your needs and expectations, while actively listening to your partner’s point of view. You need to learn to communicate effectively and respectfully, through counseling or effective communication classes, such as Marshall Rosenberg’s “nonviolent communication,” where you learn to express your desires without putting the other person on the defensive. It is very self-empowering to be able to clearly express yourself without judgment, contempt, or manipulation.

Seeking outside relationships and lying

I can see why your boyfriend would want to seek validation from others if you are treating him with contempt. But pursuing others without breaking up first and then lying to you afterwards shows that he is willing to deceive you and deny you your own life choices for the sake of his convenience.

You cannot trust someone who wants to continue a relationship while secretly exploring new ones. You cannot enjoy a committed relationship with someone who does not have the courage to be honest with you.

Thus, I suggest leaving this relationship to the realm of life experience and learning, and instead focus on the way you handle yourself in future relationships.

What now?

If I were in your situation, I would start by taking responsibility for my own behavior. If you find yourself treating anyone with contempt, apologize immediately and show a willingness to stop that harmful behavior. Find a positive way to express your needs and desires.

In the future, the main thing is that both partners learn to listen to one another without judgment and argument. You should be able to discuss anything, including hurt feelings and even breaking up while treating the other person humanely. Focus on speaking candidly in a compassionate way in order to make the relationship work.

Good luck.

by Alison Poulsen, PhD

“You’re always scowling at me!”

"Forlorn Heart" Julia Louis-Dreyfus, by Mimi Stuart ©
Live the Life you Desire

Contempt breaks the heart, because it implies that one person considers the other as undeserving of respect. Studies have shown that people who make sour facial expressions when their spouses talk are likely to be separated within four years. The dissolution of the relationship may take longer, but contempt will steadily and painfully eat away at a relationship, even when there are a few good times in between. In an atmosphere of contempt, partners find it difficult to remember any positive qualities about each other. So the vicious cycle of disdain and hurt gets worse and more irreversible with time.

It is crucial to break this cycle before it gets a stranglehold on the relationship. If your partner talks down to you, express your desire and need to be treated with love and respect. Be firm, but compassionate enough to be listened to. Try saying something like, “You may not be aware of this or mean anything by it, but you look as though you dislike me. Your facial expression makes me feel defensive and bad. I would love it if you could look at me with love and kindness.”

If your partner doesn’t get it, show him or her the research on relationships and contempt. Get any of John Gottman’s books, such as “The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work,” that show the mathematical research on the effects of contempt on a relationship. Tell your partner that life is too short to spend time together if both of you are not willing to try to bring the best of yourselves to the relationship.

While you can’t control another person, you do have control over what kind of behavior you are willing to accept, and whom you spend time with. If your partner knows that you have the desire and courage to leave an unsatisfactory relationship you will retain power over your own life. If you’re determined not to let contemptuous behavior slide, your partner will be hard pressed to continue to treat you poorly. If the behavior continues despite your ongoing efforts, the only solution may be to limit or end the relationship before heartache and misery overwhelm you.

A loving relationship based on respect requires a sense of self-respect on your part. People who exude self-respect by stopping or withdrawing from others who talk down to them are more attractive than those who accept contempt. Expecting respect can be a more powerful aphrodisiac than unconditional acceptance. But it has to be backed up by the courage to remove yourself from an unhealthy relationship.

by Alison Poulsen, PhD

John Gottman’s website.

Read “Criticism and Contempt.”

“I want to save my relationship with a pathological liar.”

"Perception" by Mimi Stuart ©

“Perception” by Mimi Stuart ©

“I’m in a very desperate situation. I have been with my man for 5 years.
He is a pathological liar. I control the accounts because he accumulated a lot of debts, but I gave him his credit card back and he went away and got very drunk and spent money we needed! He acts as though he hates me and has no more desire for me, while ignoring me for three weeks. He says he doesn’t know what he wants. Meanwhile, I am depressed and feel desperate, but I love him and want to save our relationship.”


I wish I could tell you how to save your relationship, but it really can’t be done and shouldn’t be hoped for. This is the reason for your depression and desperation. Desperation occurs when a person feels hopeless. Part of you wants something that is impossible — a loving, trusting relationship with a pathological liar who spends recklessly and treats you with contempt.

I do not recommend that you try to save your relationship. It can’t be done. The only way you will truly feel better is if you regain your sense of self and get your life back by becoming independent and free of this man.

There are several reasons why you should not depend on this man in any way. Any one of these give you enough reason to terminate the relationship.

He is a pathological liar

First and foremost, you cannot have a real relationship with a pathological liar. Trust and clear, honest communication are the bases for an intimate relationship. You can never trust a deceitful person. Nor can you depend on someone who lacks a sense of values and ethics. You cannot even get to know who he is because he is always putting on a façade in order to manipulate you and those around him.

He is financially reckless

No matter how much you love someone, when that person is financially reckless, there is no basis for security. Romance with someone so reckless is very fleeting. If he is a grown man and cannot control his spending, that is enough reason to become completely independent of him — financially and emotionally. Do not live with him and do not share any expenses with him.

When you try to monitor his spending to stop his recklessness, you become a surrogate parent. This will destroy his desire for you, and make you feel resentful. He would also lose respect for you for being so desperate as to tolerate his recklessness.

He treats you with contempt

It’s very difficult to have a relationship with someone who is sullen and withdrawn. Some people withdraw for an hour or perhaps a day, but if this happens frequently or lasts much longer, the relationship will deteriorate into misery. It sounds as though you are already there. Hating you and ignoring you for weeks shows a serious contempt for you and a lack of maturity and compassion for your suffering.

At this point in your relationship the key question to ask yourself is what steps you need to take to achieve what is in your best interest and the best interest of your children.

In order to regain your self-respect and well-being, you need to resist the short-term gratification of hoping for happiness with this man. Your desperation will diminish if you find your inner strength and take control of your life without a man who is a pathological liar, reckless spender, and full of contempt toward you.

by Dr. Alison Poulsen


Read “Contempt: ‘Don’t look at me that way!’”

Read “’How could he leave me? I did everything for him.’ Being needed versus being wanted.”

Read “My life feels out of control.”

How to resist getting back together with a narcissist

"Song of Everest" by Mimi Stuart © Live the Life you Desire

“Song of Everest” by Mimi Stuart ©
Live the Life you Desire


I don’t seem to be able to break the habit of contacting my ex fiancé even though he had several online affairs, alternated affection with contempt, lost his temper with me, lectured me constantly to try to force me to change myself in pretty much every way, sabotaged my friendships and acted obnoxiously when my family member died and I had a massive cancer scare. What on earth do I do?



Everything you said about your ex fits the description of a narcissist:

• making accusations
• showing contempt
• sabotaging your friendships
• lacking empathy
• having online affairs that feed his need for validation and praise

Most people enjoy admiration, but for narcissists, the craving for validation is never-ending, as they need it in order to feel empowered and worthwhile. Thus, the primary drive in their lives is to seek praise and conquest, whether through seduction, power, or status.

Narcissists unconsciously target well-meaning, vulnerable people as their intimates. Yet ironically, narcissists end up holding in contempt those who admire or love them. While they seek admiration, they have disdain for people foolish enough to be deceived by their grandiosity. Moreover, they fear that intimates may discover the extreme emptiness and vulnerability underlying their grandiosity.

Thus, in intimate relationships, they protect themselves from criticism, humiliation, and rejection by over-reacting with contempt or outrage whenever they are challenged on any level. Contempt becomes a tool to keep their partner and other intimates insecure and dependent, thus, ensuring their continued validation. Contempt erodes the partner’s self-respect, which will make it harder for that person to stand up and leave the abusive relationship.

Breaking emotional ties

Narcissists will drain the life out of you. It is critical that you stay away from someone who is demeaning toward you, has online affairs, and sabotages your friendships.

Leaving a narcissist can be difficult because your self-confidence is diminished, and narcissists tend to excel at manipulation and seduction. They may threaten and berate you and alternatively use their skills of charm and seduction. It is up to you to avoid becoming weak to such maneuvering.

To quit a relationship with a narcissist, you have to make a conscious decision to avoid the narcissist. You’ve got to be strong and decide flatly that you will end the relationship.

You can make it a bit easier by keeping busy with friends and family. If you can afford it, travel is a great way to free yourself of your old habits. Initially it will take willpower for you to resist the urge of contacting him and to avoid being seduced by his charms. It is natural to miss a person you have been emotionally involved with for so long, even when that person is often unkind and contemptuous. But you will miss him less after the first three months of no contact. After a year, things will become much easier.

Keep in mind that relationships should be loving and supportive. If your return to him, his negative behavior is likely to get much worse.

Remember that in a good relationship, each partner wants the other person’s happiness. Look for someone who embraces your friends, who cares for you, appreciates your desires, and who feels empathy for what you are going through — your disappointments, successes, and losses. Look for someone who never (or hardly ever!!) shows contempt toward you.

by Dr. Alison Poulsen


Read “Ending an Abusive Relationship: ‘I feel guilty leaving my abusive partner, because I have compassion for him.’”

Read “Narcissism.”

Read “Emotionally Volatile People: ‘He can be so charming and then so defiant.’”

How to predict a divorce or the breakup of a relationship

"Content of Character" by Mimi Stuart ©

“Content of Character” by Mimi Stuart ©

How do you tend to respond to your partner’s benign comments about the weather, the news, or your surroundings? Do you often make cutting or critical remarks or ignore his or her comments? You may think that this is an insignificant issue. However, John Gottman’s research shows that the quality of every-day interaction makes all the difference in the world in the success of any relationship.

Among couples who get divorced within six years of getting married, one partner or the other is either ignored or receives a negative response 67% of the time. On the other hand, among couples who are satisfied with their relationship, the response to their partners’ actions and comments were negative only 13% of the time. They responded positively 87% of the time!

This is highly significant and shows that a relationship thrives or dies in large part as a result of all those brief moments and minor communications throughout the day.

Bids and turns

Gottman calls verbal attempts to make a connection “bids,” and he categorizes the responses people make as either a “turn toward” the partner or a “turn away” from the partner. When you turn toward a person, the person feels valued, whereas when you turn away from a person, he or she may feel invisible or not valued.

Here are some examples of bids and responses:

Bid: “Dinner’s ready.”
Turn away: “Spaghetti again?”
Turn toward: “Thank you, sounds great.”

Bid: “Wow, it’s cold today.”
Turn away: “Well it is winter in Idaho. We’re not in the tropics.”
Turn toward: “Yep, it sure is cold.”

Bid: “How do you like my new shirt?”
Turn away: “Are you kidding me? What did you pay for that?”
Turn toward: “Love it. Where did you get it?” Or “Interesting design. You always look good.”

Bid: “I’m so tired from work.”
Turn away: No comment.
Turn toward: “I’m so sorry, anything I can do to help?”

Bid: “Sorry I’m late.”
Turn away: “You’re always late. It’s driving me crazy!”
Turn toward: “I’m sure there’s a good reason. I hate to bring this up, but I think we should figure out a way where I’m not waiting for you so much. It’s starting to get really frustrating for me.”

Contempt vs respect

Contempt is the number one factor leading to unhappy relationships and divorce. When your response “turns away” from a person through neglect, criticism or a negative tone of voice, you express contempt or lack of regard for that person.

“Turning toward” a person does not mean that you have to agree with all comments made or become obsequious. It simply means showing that you are listening and responding with respect. As long as you don’t criticize or ignore your partner, you can disagree all you want.

When people repeatedly respond negatively or ignore their partners’ comments, there is often an underlying issue, such as resentment, feeling unappreciated, or a lack of self-empowerment in their lives. These issues are best dealt with through honest reflection and candid communication, not with passive-aggressive contemptuous behavior.

Sometimes a person is simply busy or focused on a project and does not want to be interrupted. Even in such situations, take the time to use a kind tone of voice when saying something like, “Do you mind if we talk later because I’d really like to finish this project. Thank you.”

Often couples don’t know why they have “drifted apart” or “fallen out of love” over the years. They need to realize that relationships wither or flourish depending on the daily care shown in how they respond to their partners’ attempts to communicate and connect. If you want your relationship to flourish, make sure you respond to bids for connection with kindness.

by Dr. Alison Poulsen

Read “Changing Relationship Dynamics: ‘It’s too late to start telling my boyfriend to let me know when he’s coming home late because our communication patterns have already been established.’”

Read “Five Keys to a Great Relationship: ‘There’s nothing we can do to stay in love.’”

“Sometimes my teenager ignores me and other times she slams the door on her way to school, saying ‘just go back to bed.’”

“Steadfast Amelia” by Mimi Stuart ©
Live the Life you Desire

Teenagers generally experience a roller coaster of emotions, feeling superior and independent one moment, then discouraged and needy the next, resulting in mood swings that leave a parent as stunned and confused as the teenager. Frequently distracted, they may not hear their name being called. But if they purposely ignore you, it’s good to speak up: “Alexa, even if something’s bothering you, please acknowledge me when I talk to you.”

Irritability and testiness are understandable in teenagers; they are experiencing a lot of social pressures, academic stress, and increased hormone levels. Yet, any contempt in the form of verbal attacks has to be addressed with both seriousness and compassion. When anyone slams the door or makes remarks like “just go back to bed,” it’s time for you to establish boundaries. Teenagers usually feel worse about themselves when they are allowed to walk all over their parents. They actually feel more secure when they sense that their parents can express some inner strength.

While you do not want to be contemptuous yourself, it’s important to drop the sweetness and to express your personal power. Extending privileges or trying to buy friendliness when kids are behaving like this lowers their respect even more for you. You may want to say, “Don’t speak to me with a demeaning tone of voice. If something is wrong or you have a problem, you can tell me, but talk to me respectfully.”

Avoid in-your-face lecturing, which they will tune out, and avoid hostile withdrawal, which hurts them more than they let on. Instead, speak up and then withdraw a bit to give the teenager time to process. You can say something brief such as, “I know school is hard and you may have a lot going on, but it is not okay to treat me this way.”

It’s helpful to remember that you are role modeling the way you would like them to handle others who are rude. You want them to be effective. So you have to show a balance of respect, personal power, and compassion yourself. Be ready to be compassionate if they explain or become apologetic. Your goal is not to punish but to teach a more effective way of dealing with life’s difficulties.

Don’t expect behavior to permanently change after having a couple of conversations and meting out a few consequences. It’s normal for insolence to creep in again and again. It’s like teaching a small child to say “thank you” — you have to remind them a thousand times.

When parents realize that these moods are fleeting and when they can maintain some calm during the storms, the moodiness will eventually stabilize.

by Alison Poulsen, PhD

Read “My teenager is selfish and rude! How did I raise a child like this?”

Read “You don’t mean it when you said ‘I hate you Mom!’”

Read “My child is so disrespectful.”