Couples and Clutter – Conquering Contempt

marble-couple

Here’s more on the topic of helping couples manage clutter in a shared space using the wisdom of relationship researcher, John Gottman. This time we explore contempt and its antidote.

In our post about criticism, we addressed how blaming inhibits a couple’s communication and ability to work together to create a home that supports them both. Contempt takes criticism to the next level.

Contempt is poisonous. It is so threatening to communication because it comes from a position of superiority. It displays disgust. Contempt is fueled by long-simmering negative thoughts.

If your goal is to get someone to change their behavior, you’re not going to get very far by putting them down.

EXAMPLE: Misplaced Items

Contemptuous Approach

Partner A: Where’s the packing tape? It’s supposed to be in the kitchen drawer!

Partner B: I left it in the office where I was using it.

Partner A: That’s so stupid, why did you put it there?! It belongs in the kitchen! You really like to make my life miserable (said with a sneer), don’t you?

The antidote is to describe your own feelings and needs. Actively use positive affirmations, building a culture of appreciation and respect. If you find yourself tearing down your partner in response to some transgression, stop yourself and consider how to turn that around.

Collaborative Approach

Partner A: I can’t find the packing tape in the kitchen drawer where we keep it, do you know where it is?

Partner B: I left it in the office where I was using it.

Partner A: It’s most convenient for me to find the packing tape in the kitchen. Would it be helpful to get a second roll of tape and keep it in the office where it would be more convenient for you to put it away? (said in a genuine tone of voice without irony)


Your desire to make your home functional and organized is legitimate. Modifying your approach may be more effective to get your needs met … and to meet the needs of your partner at the same time. Next up…Defensiveness.

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Filed under couples, Decluttering, home organizing, Perspective

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