Managing Conflict Without Contempt in Marriage

Managing Conflict Without Contempt in Marriage

Marriage brings two people together to share a life, but it also inevitably leads to disagreements and conflict. How couples handle those conflicts can determine the health and longevity of their relationship.

Contempt – which includes criticism, cynicism, disgust, and hostile humor – is one of the most destructive behaviors for married couples.

Research shows that expressing contempt towards a partner during conflict can predict divorce. In this blog article, we are going to hare tips and strategies for managing contempt and building strong healthy relationship.

Why Contempt Should Be Avoided

Contempt goes beyond criticism into attacks on your partner’s sense of self. It conveys disgust and a lack of respect. Contempt erodes emotional intimacy and harms relationships.

Some signs of contempt include:

  • Sarcasm
  • Mockery
  • Hostile humor
  • Name-calling
  • Eye-rolling
  • Sneering
  • Hostile body language

Research shows that once contempt enters a marriage, the prognosis for the relationship declines rapidly. Contempt makes conflicts worse and more difficult to resolve. It leaves emotional wounds. For a marriage to thrive, contempt must be avoided.

Healthier Responses to Disagreement

While no couple will agree on everything, there are constructive ways to handle conflicts that build understanding rather than contempt.

Listen Actively

Active listening is crucial for effective communication in relationships. It involves fully concentrating on your partner, making eye contact, and avoiding distractions. Listen without interrupting or mentally preparing your response.

Reflect back on key points to demonstrate understanding. Ask clarifying questions if needed. Avoid negative body language like eye-rolling. Stay engaged and present. Active listening makes your partner feel truly heard and valued.

Validate Your Partner’s Feelings

Validating your partner’s emotions shows empathy and understanding, even if you disagree on the facts. Acknowledge the emotions your partner is feeling – “I understand why you feel angry/sad/stressed about this.”

Validation helps diffuse negative feelings. Let your partner know their feelings make sense based on their perspective. Don’t criticize or judge the emotions. Validate them as legitimate before providing your own viewpoint.

Use “I” Statements

“I” statements communicate your perspective without accusing or blaming your spouse. For example, “I feel overwhelmed when the kitchen is messy” rather than “You never do dishes.”

Describing your emotions gives your partner insight. Using “I” avoids provoking defensiveness. Be specific about needs – “I need help with housework on weekends.” Take ownership of your feelings and ask for what you want.


Healthy couples compromise by finding a middle ground. Neither partner “wins” outright. Consider your spouse’s wants and find an acceptable solution. Negotiate and make concessions to meet in the middle.

Be flexible and willing to give a little. Compromise demonstrates you value your partner’s needs,, too. Meet halfway.

couple fighting in sofa

Use Humor Carefully

Lighthearted humor can ease tension in difficult conversations. A funny quip or anecdote can relax both partners and create levity. However, sarcasm, teasing, and put-downs often hurt more than help.

Read your spouse’s reaction. Make sure humor connects you, not distances you. Funny jokes or stories can allow you both to laugh and regain perspective.

Take a Break

If tensions rise, pause the discussion before it escalates into a fight. Tell your partner you need a short break to cool off and gather thoughts. Set a time to revisit the issue with calmer emotions.

A brief walk or alone time lets you de-stress. Breaks prevent reactive exchanges that cause harm. Resume when rational discussion can occur.

Focus on the Issue

Avoid character attacks and stay focused on the specific issue at hand. Criticize the action, not the person. Raise concerns respectfully without dredging up past grievances or blaming your partner’s personality.

Maintain goodwill even during disagreements. Argue the point, not the person. Keep conflicts constructive.

Remain Calm

Keep an even, controlled tone, even if your partner gets upset. Escalating to yelling, sarcasm, or insults damages trust and understanding. Breathe deeply. Speak slowly, rationally, and kindly.

Your calm presence soothes your partner. Rational discussions produce solutions. Staying calm allows you to see each other’s perspective.

Apologize When Needed

If you say something insensitive or regretful, apologize sincerely. Do not justify the hurtful words or make excuses. Admit fault and say you understand the impact. Ask forgiveness and commit to avoiding the same in the future.

Repair the emotional harm before attempting to move forward constructively. A heartfelt apology can heal.

Seek Help If Needed

For ongoing conflicts or communication breakdowns, seek professional help. A counselor facilitates productive discussions by teaching healthy interaction patterns. Therapy provides perspective and concrete skills.

Seek interventions before resentment builds. Counseling gets your communication unstuck. Objective guidance strengthens the relationship.

couple conflict

Preventing Contempt

While contempt should always be avoided when disagreements occur, there are also proactive ways that couples can head off contempt and foster a mutually respectful relationship:

1. Shared Activities: Shared activities are essential for nurturing a healthy relationship. Spending quality time together in fun and enjoyable experiences strengthens the emotional bond between partners.

It allows you to create lasting memories and share moments of joy, which can serve as a source of positivity within the relationship.

2. Express Appreciation: Expressing appreciation involves regularly acknowledging and valuing your partner’s contributions and qualities.

Genuine praise, compliments, and expressions of gratitude are vital for building a foundation of mutual respect and affection. This practice helps both partners feel valued and loved.

3. Physical Affection: Physical affection plays a significant role in maintaining emotional closeness. Hugs, hand-holding, and other physical displays of affection release bonding hormones such as oxytocin.

These gestures help prevent emotional distance and ensure that the connection between partners remains strong.

4. Shared Meaning: Shared meaning involves committing to common values, purposes, and goals within the relationship. It’s about finding a deeper sense of purpose in being together.

When couples align their aspirations and meaning within the marriage, it strengthens the emotional connection and reinforces the commitment to each other.

5. Emotional Intimacy: Emotional intimacy is achieved when partners open up, share their feelings, and allow themselves to be vulnerable with each other. This deep understanding of each other’s emotions and thoughts is a fundamental component of a strong relationship. It prevents the development of an “us versus them” mentality and fosters empathy and closeness.

6. Give Benefit of the Doubt: Giving your partner the benefit of the doubt means interpreting their words and actions in a positive light. It involves avoiding assumptions of negative motivations and instead assuming goodwill.

This practice promotes trust and reduces misunderstandings that can lead to conflict.

7. Respect Differences: Respecting each other’s unique personality quirks and differences is crucial for a harmonious relationship. Embracing diversity within the partnership can make life more interesting and enjoyable.

It’s important to appreciate what makes your partner unique rather than trying to change them.

8. Shared Responsibility: In a healthy relationship, both partners should share the responsibility for its success. It’s vital to avoid placing blame solely on one partner in times of conflict.

Instead, the goal should be a mutual commitment to working through challenges and nurturing the relationship. This shared responsibility fosters a sense of partnership and teamwork.

With intentional effort, couples can keep contempt at bay even when conflicts arise. Maintaining an emotionally intimate bond builds trust and understanding that help navigate disagreements.

By managing conflict in a spirit of mutual care and respect, husbands and wives can disagree without damaging their marriage.


Though some conflict is inevitable, couples can choose compassion over contempt. They can commit to listening generously, apologizing sincerely, and using gentle humor rather than hostility.

With mutual care and vulnerability, spouses can weather conflict while strengthening their bond. Contempt corrodes connection, but its opposite – warmth, affection, and goodwill – can help carry a marriage through challenging seasons.

By managing conflict without contempt, couples build trust and intimacy that enables their relationship to thrive for a lifetime. Learn here more about strong marriage tips and guidance.