The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, according to Dr. John Gottman, are certain negative communication styles that are lethal to a relationship. Gottman’s research shows that the Four Horsemen predict relationship failure with over 90% accuracy if the behavior isn’t changed (Click here for a more detailed explanation of the Four Horsemen).
Contempt is any statement or nonverbal behavior that puts yourself on a higher ground than your spouse or partner. It shows up in statements that come from a position of moral superiority and includes sarcasm, cynicism, name-calling, eye-rolling, sneering in disgust, mockery, and hostile humor.
Contempt is destructive and defeating. It destroys the fondness and admiration between partners, and it is the greatest predictor of divorce. Of all the horsemen, contempt is the most dangerous and it should be avoided at all costs.
The Antidote to Contempt: Build a Culture of Appreciation and Respect
The antidote to contempt is to build a culture of appreciation and respect in your relationship. To regularly express appreciation, gratitude, affection, and respect creates a positive perspective in a relationship that acts as a buffer when negative feelings emerge. The more positive you feel about your relationship and yourself, the less likely that you will feel or express contempt!
Gottman also discovered the 5:1 “magic ratio” of positive to negative interactions. In any relationship, if you have five or more positive interactions for every one negative interaction, then you are constantly making deposits into your emotional bank account, which keeps your relationship healthy and positive.
Examples of Contempt and Its Antidote
Contempt: “You forgot to buy groceries again? Ugh. You are so incredibly lazy.” (Rolls eyes.)
Antidote: “I understand that you’ve been busy today but could you please remember to buy grocery when I work late? I’d appreciate it.”
Contempt: “It happened again. Your irresponsible spending again maxed out our credit card limit. All you think about is yourself, and don’t appreciate all the sacrifices I’ve made for our family.”
Antidote: “I feel frustrated about the state of our finances and the amount we spend versus how much we save each month. I would like to define better a monthly budget.”
(Most of this information comes from the Book: The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work by John Gottman)