Not long ago I read a study that suggested that contempt was the number one cause of break ups and divorce. It seemed like a pretty sound study.
Contempt is defined as “the feeling that a person or a thing is beneath consideration, worthless, or deserving scorn.” Kind of interesting, contempt is not so much about your actions, but rather, your feelings. Most spouses can read your feelings, your motivation, your intent. You may go through all the right motions, but if your heart is feeling contemptuous, often that can be felt in a relationship, no matter how well you disguise it.
Over time it starts to build up until you finally reach the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Contempt kills relationships.
I think a lot of people don’t recognize contempt for what it is. I’ve watched men withdraw or walk away because they are the one who is “right,” who is being “rational.” That’s actually a form of contempt. A lot of women complain about that to me. Many men will shut down for a variety of reasons, but to women that usually just reads as contempt. It’s like saying “you are simply not worthy of my time or my emotional investment.” Sometimes it’s good to walk away and pick things up later, but when that’s all someone ever does, it feels like contempt.
Women can be real pros at contempt, too. It’s a more passive/aggressive way of fighting back, so we’ve refined it. Our culture also tends to support contempt towards men. It’s almost expected that women in casual conversation will roll their eyes and express some sort of disdain for men in general. TV sitcoms, commercials, advertising, all really support this subtle kind of contempt towards men. It’s an insidious thing, because men tend to want to accommodate women, so as to avoid our contempt. That’s just biology at play. When women are tossing around contempt as a matter of routine, men have no idea what we want anymore.
I have to laugh here and offer another rather disgusting animal allegory, but henpecked is a real things in the world. That is a cliche that generally refers to men who are constantly being nagged and subjected to women’s contempt. In the chicken world however, it’s really graphic and appalling.
I love roosters, they’re pretty, they crow in the morning. I went through three of them before I finally gave up. Hens that are not happy with a rooster will peck him and usually there’s a few dozen of them and only one of him. Everyday each hen will give him a peck until he finally just loses so much blood, he keels over. Death by a thousand pecks. If you don’t rescue him quickly, he’ll be reduced to chicken nuggets in no time.
Needless to say, the rooster is not entirely innocent. He is going about the business of being a rooster, which I’m sure is rather annoying to the hens, but I’m still not convinced it warrants the death penalty.
Relationships are hard. Love can be really challenging because it asks you to remain open and vulnerable to somebody who has the ability to hurt you. Most of us want to pull away in that situation and protect ourselves with bits of contempt.
I see contempt in couples everywhere I go, in the grocery store, at the park, in social situations, and I always think of those chickens. Death by a thousand pecks.