Photo by Timur Weber

Contempt in relationships can lead to a lot of pain. Being on the receiving end of it is bound to eat away at your confidence and shut you down.

And when you’re the one who can’t keep your own contemptuous behaviors in check, they’ll only end up making you feel isolated and like you can never have what you want.

But, even though contempt in relationships is such a serious issue, it can be incredibly hard to spot.

We’ve been all conditioned to ignore mean comments and ‘just let them go’.

People also have a tendency to minimize their own damaging behaviors and play down their negative influence on others.

Life and relationships are messy.

We all have our own shortcomings and make mistakes. That’s how we then end up hurting the ones closest to us, without ever intending to do so.

In this blog post, I will shed some light on this difficult topic. I’ll describe how to spot contempt in relationships and what causes it.

I’ll also give you tips on how to get past it and actually fix it for good.

What Is Contemptuous Behavior and How to Spot It (With Examples)

Contempt in relationships can be so hard to spot because the person resorting to it will paint you out as the one who is exaggerating, being unreasonable or can’t take a joke.

Nonetheless, you can recognize it by checking in with yourself.

Contemptuous behavior is seeking to actively dismiss, minimize or mock your partner.

It’s not uncommon for people to get defensive when confronted with their partner’s feelings.

However, contempt is more like counter attacking than just being defensive.

How to Spot Contempt in Relationships When You’re on the Receiving End of It

If you tried communicating something to your partner, and they shot you down in a way that made you rejected and dismissed, it’s a sign their reaction was one of contempt.

Here is an example of this:

“Why are you brining this up again? You’re so needy and difficult. All you ever think of is yourself!”

Defensive listening is actually a common relationship problem. In fact, most couples struggle with it to a lesser or greater degree.

But the main difference between defensiveness and contempt is that the latter feels far more hurtful and is very damaging.

It can also come as a direct attack from your partner:

When they try communicating something to you but do it in a way that makes you feel broken, inferior or defeated, then most likely you’ve been experiencing contempt in your relationship.


“I asked you for this ONE thing. Is it really that difficult to once do what I asked for?”


“You never have sex with me. Do you want me to go and find somebody else who will?”

How to Spot Contempt in Relationships When You’re the One Doing It

When you’re on the giving end of contempt, there are a few common triggers for it.

One type of situations that might make you react in this damaging way is:

When something your partner said to you seems so outrageous or threatening, it makes you lash out to quickly shut them down.

When this happens, then chances are you’ve been responding in a contemptuous way.


“You need me to be more affectionate? Are you like a five-year-old looking for a mommy to give him a kiss and a pat on the back? Grow up!”

“I can’t take all your complaints! You’re so high maintenance! Nothing is ever good enough for you!”

Another common trigger for contempt is when you’re needing something from your partner, but feel offended that you have to even ask for it.

You might think they should have given it to you already, and have a really hard time coming to terms with the fact that they didn’t.


“Do I really need to repeat myself for a millionth time? You really just don’t care about me at all, do you?”

The thing is, even if you are tired of begging for attention in your relationship, there are better ways of going about communicating it…

What Does It Mean When You Feel Contempt for Your Partner

Contempt in relationships is a difficult topic to face. It’s hard enough to spot it when you’re on the receiving end of it. But seeing and admitting that you might be the one doing it, is even tougher.

This is why I want to make one thing clear:

We all have issues and shortcomings. Nobody has a perfect track record. We’re also all quick to judge and dismiss others sometimes.

However, in order to be able to get past it, both of you need to realize that acting contemptuous towards someone, it has more to do with YOU than it does with THEM.

When you feel contempt for your partner, it means that you’ve been on the receiving end of this kind of treatment earlier in your life.

Contempt is nothing more than an ineffective and damaging way of communicating your needs and feelings.

(It might even lead to a complete lack of communication in your relationship.)

The thing is, being contemptuous is not a character trait that people are born with. They pick it up somewhere…

What Causes Contempt in a Relationship

Some relationship experts will tell you that contempt is a sign of unresolved relationship problems. That things might have been rough for a while now, and you’ve simply had enough.

You’re unhappy and this is why you’re lashing out.

The thing is, no relationship is perfect. All couples fight from time to time and have difficulties.

But not all of them struggle with contempt.

If you’re the one who is on the receiving end of this damaging behavior, it’s important that you know: it’s not your fault.

This situation has more to do with your partner’s personal baggage, than it does with your relationship.

And if you’re the one who feels contempt towards your partner, keep in mind that blaming them will not get you anywhere.

If you want to finally feel loved and appreciated, you need to try to take responsibility and take a critical look at your own past.

Because we do tend to treat our loved ones the same way we’ve been treated.

What causes feelings of contempt in a relationship is having had our own needs and feelings mocked, dismissed or rejected in this painful way by somebody else beforehand.

It’s simply not ok to EVER treat anybody this way.

Contemptuous behaviors are utterly ineffective at getting you what you want, and they’re never justified.

How to Get Past Contempt in a Relationship

Fixing contempt in a relationship has to be a team effort. Both of you will need to cooperate to make it happen.

The partner who is on the receiving end of it needs to learn to respond to it in a way that will keep their significant other in check.

The best way to do that is to point it out when it happens and set boundaries.

At the same time, the person who is feeling contemptuous has to be willing to work on fixing it and try to cooperate.

Make an effort to notice and catch it before things escalate, and do everything in their power to avoid inflicting more damage.

Getting past contempt in a relationship takes two, but one of you can jumpstart it. It often takes standing up to someone, to get them to see and work on an issue they’ve been unaware of.

If you’re struggling with contempt in your relationship, I can support you with getting past it in a one-on-one coaching call.

SimplyTogether Coaching Calls

Here, I’ll listen to your struggles, validate your side and build you up. So that you can find back to feeling more confident and can stand your ground.

I’ll also give you tips on how to approach your partner to get them to keep their contempt in check.

Click Here to Check Out Coaching

Regardless if you’re on the giving or receiving end of contempt in a relationship, there is one more fundamental principle that can help you get past it:

You need to Stop Expecting YOU in People

This is how you can see your partner for who they truly are, and start working withing the scope of their own personal limitations.

Thank you for reading! Hope you now know how to cope with contempt in relationships.

If you have any questions, leave me a comment down below, and I’ll get back to you!


Karolina Bartnik