Too Much Familiarity Can Breed Contempt
Bill Cottringer

“Familiarity breeds contempt, for others at first, but then inwardly, contempt towards ourselves.”
~Oli Anderson, Synchronesia: A Depressing Existential Novel.

Most relationship experts agree that contempt can creep into a relationship before you see it coming and that there is a point of no return with contempt and the end of a relationship. By contempt we mean the four D’s—Intense disdain, disapproval, dislike and disrespect for a person. By too much familiarity, we are referring to sliding into boundary-less intimacy with a person’s faults without any gentle nudging back to respect.

Mary and John liked to drink too much at holiday parties. They had been married for over 20 years but hit the point of no return with their drinking, obnoxious behavior and gradual dislike for each other, before they had a chance to notice what was going on or to talk about it and nip it in the bud. They were headed for the divorce court when the last straw broke the camel’s back happened with John’s DUI coming back from a New Year’s Even party where he had polished off three quarters of a bottle of 18-year old single malt scotch long before midnight ever arrived.

Kathy and Mark like to outdo each other about their celebrity pasts at neighborhood gatherings, boring every-one with their odious name-dropping and endless stories. Along with drifting into this bad habit, they began eating too much and quickly gaining too much weight which interfered with their physical health and hiking activities. This was each of their second marriages and although they had only been married for a little less than 10 years, one morning they woke up wondering why they were still together. They were both hesitant about marriage counseling, but decided to at least give it a shot. Unfortunately, too much familiarity had already bred too much contempt and it was time to call it quits.

Some long-term friends of Kathy’s before her first marriage, Sam and Samantha just celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. They had been together since High School and were best friends, as well as passionate lovers and life partners. For one thing, both always made bona fide attempts to keep the spark alive with regular date nights. Kathy had many close and personal talks with her friends and should have learned enough to stop the familiarity before it came and went as her own marriage destroying-contempt.

Sam and Samantha were always respectful of each other in every-regard and sensitive to not overstep boundaries with politeness, kindness and helpfulness when either was treading on thin ice in the relationship, which is inevitable. One very important rule was to never talk bad about the other person in public, but rather have these discussions in private when the time was right for openness and non-defensiveness, without judging or controlling behavior. The other key was for each to focus more about managing their own behavior rather than complaining about the other person.

If you sense your relationship seems to have too much familiarity and may be on the brink of becoming contemptuous, take a moment and back up to consider these seven sensible defenses against this occurring:

1. If your partner is embarrassing you when in public, bite your tongue and don’t say anything until you are asked about it at home, when the answer is more likely to heard and better received. If you are not asked, try some kinder, more subtle ways of pointing out the problem behavior, without blaming, judgment or unfair criticism.

2. We all have our bad habits and unlikable foibles so pay more attention to your own and manage them the best you can without much thought about the things that bother you with your partner. Allowing yourself to shift focus from your similarities and what you like about the other person to the annoying differences, feeds the termites of contempt.

3. Set reasonable boundaries about privacy, especially in the bathroom and establish your own private space in your home that the other person respects and is always off limits without an invitation. You can never know a person too well to not retain a certain degree of privacy and personal respect for their personal space.
4. Sooner or later every relationship gets stale and the annoying dislikes gradually replace the previous likes in our private thinking. The only solution to prevent this negative aspect of familiarity is to work together to develop new likes together, maybe even doing impractical things you always wanted to do but let practicality get in the way.

5. Always plan special occasions over holidays, birthdays, anniversaries and Saturday nights just to keep things interesting and have something fun to look forward to. While it may be true that we should be living more in the present moment, anticipation of future fun and interesting events can be very fulfilling.

6. Try to better manage your natural tendency to avoid any conflicts in the relationship. When minor conflicts go unresolved, they seem to have a way of turning into major wars. So, when conflicts do emerge as they will, make a pledge to present the issues and your concerns in an assertive manner that shows the needed respect for the other person’s position in the conflict.

7. Never let a relationship go too far in time without stopping regularly to do an important reality check in asking and answering the question, "How are we doing?" That little gesture can keep familiarity and contempt in check.

Try a couple of these familiarity-contempt defenses and keep it from getting to the point of no return, like is happening with too many relationships.

“Teach not thy lip such scorn, for it was made for kissing, lady, not for such contempt.” ~William Shakespeare.

Author's Bio: 

William Cottringer, Ph.D. is Executive Vice-President for Employee Relations for Puget Sound Security, Inc. in Bellevue, WA, along with his hobbies in being a Sport Psychologist, Business Success Coach, Photographer and Writer living in the peaceful but invigorating mountains and rivers of North Bend. He is author of several business and self-development books, including, “You Can Have Your Cheese & Eat It Too” (Executive Excellence), “The Bow-Wow Secrets” (Wisdom Tree), “Do What Matters Most” and “P” Point Management” (Atlantic Book Publishers), “Reality Repair” (Global Vision Press), Reality Repair Rx (Authorsden), and “If Pictures Could Talk,” coming soon. Bill can be reached for comments or questions at (425) 454-5011 or