Quick Definitions then getting the answers YOU want and NEED.
Criticism: Attacking someone’s personality or character, usually with blame, instead of IDENTIFYING a specific behavior.
Hostility: To be antagonistic toward someone as if they are an enemy.
Contempt: Disapproval tinged with disgust. Communication that is intended to insult or show disdain for another who is considered vile or worthless.
Contempt and hostility are fueled by thoughts of the other person’s incompetence or disgust. They are disgusting. You think they are stupid. How do you show this? And how are YOU the victim when it happens to you?
- Labeling”You’re a jerk.”
“You’re a b_tch.”
“You’re a b_stard.”
“You’re an idiot.”
“You’re a fool.”
“You are incompetent.”
- NonverballyRoll your eyes when they say something.
Sigh heavily while they are communicating something to you.
Turn your back on them while they are talking.
Walk away from them while they are talking.
- Covert Insults and Humiliations Designed to Cause Real Pain In Others”Even Andy could get that one right.”
“If you really loved me, you’d lift a finger to help around the house.”
“You don’t even care about your kids.”
“You were never there when we really needed you.”
“Any kindergartner could figure that out, you moron.”
“You have serious psychological problems.”
Contempt Breeds Contempt
It’s true that contempt breeds contempt. Remember the last time you were involved in one of these?
“What the hell are you doing?”
“You told me to clean my room!”
“I told you to get the living room cleaned up because we have company coming, THEN to clean your room.”
“What’s the difference Mom, no one is coming for TWO hours?”
“That’s it. You have no respect. You are grounded.”
He looks at her in disbelief. Sits on his bed. Stares at her.
“What are you looking at?”
“Nothing. You’re crazy.”
“You will not speak to your Mother that way. You are grounded for one month! Now get this place clean. NOW!”
What happened here?
The son was cleaning his room. He probably should have been cleaning the living room first to prepare for company but he probably didn’t know why he should be cleaning the living room first.
Deep inside, the son felt put out that he had to clean his room and the living room. He didn’t mess up the living room after all. His toddling sister did. He doesn’t even go near the living room.
Deep inside, Mom felt like she was in a pressure cooker. Company coming in two hours and she has four hours of work to do. And this isn’t just any company this is hubby’s new client. A big one. The house has to be perfect. Tonight the pressure is on to make a really positive impression.
This is an example of how most people communicate all day long. Here is the next morning at work…
“Why aren’t you working on the Johnson account?”
“You told me to get the numbers for the Friedman account and the Johnson account updated today.”
“I told you that Johnson is going to be here in TWO hours. Get her account done THEN do the Friedman account. Does any of this make sense to you?”
“Both sets of numbers will be on your desk in the next hour.”
“I want the Johnson numbers NOW.”
“Fine.” (She drops the Friedman file. Grabs the Johnson file and returns to her desk.) “Is there anything else?”
“No. Just get that file to me ASAP.”
Deep inside, the office worker is feeling hurt and angry. She doesn’t feel trusted. She doesn’t feel as if her boss understands her competency level. She is angry that her boss felt it necessary to make a scene over NOTHING in front of the staff. The boss once again made her look bad for no reason. The file would have been done with no problem…and no time delay.
Deep inside, the boss felt that once again people just don’t get it. The top priority item gets second billing. What if there was an emergency or a problem and there wasn’t time to get the Johnson file done? Why don’t people do things in the order that make sense? This woman is as stupid as her son…except he’s 12 and has an excuse. Why does she keep this worker on? Probably because MOST of the time she does a good job, but THIS is just ridiculous.
The office worker goes home. She thinks all the way home that her boss is such a bitch.
“She really thinks I’m an idiot,” she mutters over the steering wheel. I hate her. I am going to quit. I will not put up with this insanity any longer. I can’t handle it. She always is on me. Why doesn’t she just let me work and do my job?
She pulls in the driveway. Husband is home.
“Hope he had a good day,” she says again over the steering wheel. She goes in. They hug, kiss, sit down and say hello for a minute.
“How was your day?”
“Oh, it was O.K. I’m sick of that witch though.”
“Did she say something again?”
“Yes, she was sticking her nose in my business again.”
“You know, next time she does that you should just tell her to leave and let you get your work done.”
“It’s not quite that easy. She is the boss ya’ know.”
“I know that but that doesn’t give her a right to be so overbearing. Tell her that you are good at what you do and that you don’t need her meddling.”
“She’s so in your face, very intimidating…kind of like you honey…now that I think of it…) and I don’t want to push the wrong button and lose my job.”
“Geez’, they can’t fire you for doing your job and saying how you feel. Don’t let her push you around.”
“I’ll take care of it.” (I have no idea how but I don’t want to talk about this anymore. Now I feel incompetent here too!)
“Good, if you don’t let it fester you can have it taken care of tomorrow and never deal with it again.”
“That’s easy to say, you are the supervisor at your office. I’m just a peon.”
“I respect people who speak their mind as long as they are respectful.”
“She doesn’t respect anyone but herself. She is not you.”
“I know. I just hate to see you pushed around.”
“I can handle myself.” (No I can’t. Why do I say things like that?)
“OK honey. Keep me posted.” (I’m not going to make her feel bad by continuing this.)
Solutions for Contempt and Hostility
Hostility is attacking someone with the intent to do verbal harm. Some people simply fly off the handle and criticize people. As we talked about earlier, that has to be stopped. Others will complain about behaviors that their partners do. That isn’t so bad in the long run though it isn’t exactly a recipe for happiness. What is among the worst offending sins that is detrimental to the soul is communication with the intent to harm whether in public or private.
If you or your partner are intentionally communicating with the intent to harm you must stop immediately. Hostility is something that no soul should be involved in. There is no benefit to hostility for anyone. The desire to harm others through communication is a sign of serious relationship problems that need to be corrected as soon as possible.
If your partner is intentionally communicating with you in a hostile manner you need to gently share this information with him at the first reasonable moment. The partner should be allowed to communicate his feelings about the reason for his hostility and then move to a solution.
The solution is not the silent treatment but increased communication.
However, as you deal with the specific issue of hostility do not bring up all the relationship problems of the past. This only gives cause to do the exact opposite of your goal.
What model of communication would you propose? Propose it. Get agreement if appropriate and start communicating with the intention to make each other feel good about each other. The exercises on the coming pages will help you rebuild a relationship that was on treacherous ground.
Re-Creating Love and Caring in Relationships
Will the relationship end or will love be re-created? If it’s time to start over do so now. The following plan for re-creating your relationship will be of great help. Here’s how:
Design a completely safe environment in which you and your partner may communicate.
If you have been hurting your partner, change your behavior. Changing your emotions will happen later, but change your behavior now! Your partner was hit as a child. If you tend to blow up at your loved one, stop now. They were yelled at as a child. If you get up and leave when you are angry, stop it now. They were abandoned as a child and you’re acting just like the parent.
Think carefully about these examples before moving on to number two. Create an atmosphere where it is safe to talk and communicate. Promise each other that this is a time to listen and not judge, evaluate or point fingers. Create an atmosphere where you can experience positive communication.
Describe three things that you can implement in your marriage today to create a safe environment for yourself and your partner to communicate in.
Stop all criticism immediately!
There is no such thing as constructive criticism to the parts of the unconscious mind that are attempting to finish their childhood!
Create sessions of healing acceptance.
Healing acceptance sessions occur when you and your partner sit down and talk just as if you had been hit by a car in an accident. You want to find out if the other person is all right and see what you can do for them. You need to tell your partner that you want him to acknowledge what you are about to tell him without rebuttal or explanation on his part. No defensiveness is necessary. You are simply telling him that you are wounded and that it hurts. You will not blame him. You will use statements like, “I feel…” and “I hurt…” He should say, “I understand,” and “What else do you want to tell me?” “Go on.” “OK.” Those four statements and questions are the sum of what the non-injured partner will say.
It is vitally important to never attack your partner during these “healing acceptance” sessions. Keep it open and loving and then your relationship will be on it’s way forward!
Perform random acts of kindness for your partner.
Bring a card or gift home after work. A small and inexpensive gift shows your thoughtfulness and can do wonders for your relationship in a big way. Notice the key word is “random”. It means unpredictable. Be unpredictable with your times of giving.
Do something that you normally don’t do around the house. If you never do the dishes, do them one night. If you never cut the lawn, cut it. The unexpected can be very pleasant and very appreciated.
Return to a successful dating ritual you liked.
Was there something special you did while you were dating? Do it now.
Express your love and feelings for your partner with hugs, kisses and verbal affirmations of love, often.
Most people need to be hugged and kissed. Leo Buscaglia used to prescribe at least a dozen hugs per day for the maintenance of a relationship. Saying, “I love you,” may get old after 30,000 recitations but you never hear of anyone complaining that their partner tells them that they love them too often!
Discover their needs and wants while sharing yours.
For you to have a wonderful relationship discover what your partner currently loves about your relationship. Then ask your partner what he thinks could improve your relationship. Ask your partner the questions below, in the Successful Relationship Elicitation exercise. (Don’t do this all in one sitting!)
This exercise will help you discover what is important to your partner and will help you transform your relationship.
Successful Relationship Elicitation
The following questions are to be used as discovery tools for you and your partner to learn more about each other and deepen your bond. Use these questions as tools to gently start to help you and your partner “peel each other’s onions.” The first questions will help you and your partner build resources for which you can refer to in tough times. Later questions help discover weaknesses and areas that can use change or improvement. Spend about 20 minutes for each partner with these questions, over several days.
- What is the best thing about our relationship?
- What is the next best thing about our relationship?
- What else?
- What do you believe you should learn about me to improve our relationship?
- What do you think I should learn about you to improve our relationship?
- What are two things I do that annoy you?
- What are two things you do, that you think annoy me?
- How happy are you with our sex life?
- What can I do to make our sex life more intoxicating?
- What would you be willing to do to make our sex life more intoxicating?
- When we argue from now on, should we agree to kiss and make up before the argument gets out of hand?
- What will our “cue” be for this to happen?
- What do you do around the house that you think I don’t appreciate?
- What do you do at work that you think I don’t appreciate?
- What do I do that you probably don’t appreciate as much as you could?
- What do you want to know about my past that I haven’t told you?
- What do you want me to know about your past that you haven’t told me?
- When should I be jealous?
- When do you think you should be jealous?
- How can we go from having a good relationship to having a fantastic relationship?
All of these questions allow us to discover more about our partner in a couple of hours than we may have discovered in years. Questions are an under-used element of communication in our culture. Beginning to ask gentle questions will put you on the track to improving communication and thereby improving your relationship no matter how good or bad it already is.
Learning what is important to your partner and being certain your partner understands what you need and want makes having a good relationship much easier. You take the guess work out of knowing what helps the other person feel more at ease with you.
My favorite place for people to begin in identifying hostility, contempt, criticism before it is verbalized is of course by observing and decoding the body language of others. This might be a good place for you to begin valuable study.