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At the beginning of relationships, we are careful of what we say and how we say it.
We respect our partners and make it a priority. Often, communication is sweet and adoring. After a while, when the honeymoon stage is gone, we get comfortable, and a little bored with our partners. We can slip into talking to them with contempt. It’s usually gradual. Each time we get away with it, we continue on.
“Relationships can hit the rocks for all kinds of reasons. But according to renowned sex therapist, Esther Perel, a single factor is a major predictor of whether or not a relationship will survive: whether the couple in question treats one another with contempt.
In her latest book, State of Affairs: Rethinking Infidelity, Perel asserts that contempt is the biggest killer of relationships.”
What’s behind this common problem with relationships? I was curious.
Esther Perel says, “Speaking to our partners or loved ones with contempt happens because we can get by with it. Not a grandiose reason, just because we can get by with it.”
The moment I heard this, it made sense. It’s not a major problem necessarily if we catch it and shift it. However, it can be an enormous problem as it chips away and undermines our relationship. Perhaps it’s just being with someone whom we’ve grown comfortable with. We don’t need their approval anymore, so we just stop consciously trying to, as we did in the beginning.
Perhaps it is an underlying frustration that hasn’t been resolved that is manifesting in our voice tone. We fart, burp, snore, and pee in front of our partners—we do a multitude of things we do not do around others because we get comfortable. We begin to get by with talking to them with contempt.
We forget the respect, the adoring comments, and the voice we used in the beginning when we found them alluring. We just get into a place of it being like a worn-out pair of shoes. Take it or leave it mentality. If someone else was listening, it might sound like our partners are a nuisance.
This contemptuous way of talking affects our relationship. It does. It can be a marker of if the relationship will last. We’ve allowed ourselves to stop acting and speaking consciously and have fallen into the default mode.
Often, we’ve convinced ourselves that we are tired of our partner. We speak to them with contempt because at some level, we are taking them for granted; we aren’t valuing them. We are slowly chipping away at any passion that is there. It’s really hard to have passion and desire when spoken to with contempt. In our busy lives, we do not stop to evaluate how this feels when it is done to us.
Do we just continue on with the entitlement of having the right to talk to our partners with disgust because we are with them? It’s as if we are going to discard them.
In our approval-seeking society, we’ve trained ourselves to be kind and speak with caution to those not so close to us, and that very thing could be the reason we speak disrespectfully with our partners because we are so tired of speaking politely, kindly, and cautiously with others.
I totally have found it to be true what Perel says. We let it out with our partners because we can get by with it. Because they have accepted us. It is sad, really, that the very people we love and cherish we speak to in the worst possible way. However, those we don’t know that well and aren’t as comfortable around we speak with respectfully.
It’s really important to check in with ourselves and our partners periodically for this reason. We can notice when we are driving our relationship by default. We begin to see how our unconscious behaviors can erode a relationship.
It’s important to really drive our relationship with conscious effort. Being in a relationship doesn’t give us the right to totally disregard our partner’s feelings and disrespect them. One way to nail this dynamic is to set a recorder somewhere in the house that is frequent and turn it on voice-activated. Leave it for a long while. You’ll most likely forget it is there. Then make a future note to yourself to check it. Then playback the recording.
It can be mind-blowing. For some, it will have the same voice tone and response that has been there, and it is respectful and nonviolent. Others will find that they speak to their partner with utter contempt.
Really, when we look back, it might not even have anything to do with our partner; it might just be overall frustration with life outside of our relationship. Others will find they have pent-up frustrations that need to be voiced.
If we truly care about having a healthy, thriving relationship, we’ll do the extra effort it takes to consciously move through it and grow, treating our partners as if they are important to us.
Sometimes it’s not about what we say, but how we say it.