Over the years I’ve helped a lot of couples get their relationships back on track. I’ve also watched couples self-destruct despite my best efforts. The mind can’t help but notice patterns among the two groups. I think any experienced shrink can predict with some reliability which couples will last, which ones will drift apart, and which ones will eventually donate their life savings to divorce lawyers.
Now I’m a very optimistic guy, and I believe that most relationships can be repaired if each partner is willing to work. But there is one behavior that takes the wind out of my sails every time: rudeness. I lose my optimism when a couple loses their manners.
Rudeness is a sign that a couple is losing respect for each other. It means that contempt is creeping into the relationship—and contempt is a very bad sign.
Contempt is to relationships what zucchini is to an otherwise delightful stir-fry. In this shrink’s humble opinion, zucchini adds nothing but bitter, joyless bulk to a recipe. Yet people insist on polluting good food with it. Why? Because zucchini is cheap and easy—just like being rude.
And nobody uses a little bit of zucchini. It’s always Bombs Away! when the squash hits the cutting board. Decent food doesn’t stand a chance. Likewise, I haven’t met many people who are a little bit rude to their partners. Like cheap zucchini, rudeness doesn’t lend itself to moderation.
Those of you who are interested in using contempt to ruin your relationship can follow this handy guide that I’ve compiled from my years in the clinic. You’re probably in the minority, just like zucchini lovers, but I’m not one to exclude people based on unusual proclivities.
This is by no means an exhaustive list—feel free to ad lib—but I’ve seen this approach ruin plenty of marriages. In the unlikely event that contempt isn’t enough, a person can kill almost any relationship by being despicable.
I realize some of you may not be interested in ruining your marriages. You might even be curious about the successful couples I’ve met. Fine. Here you go.
I know: kindness looks great on paper but it doesn’t fix real relationship problems. It won’t eliminate money shortages, illnesses, or mid-life crises. But I can tell you from experience that couples who maintain their manners through the tough times are a helluva lot more likely to remain together. They will look back with satisfaction at the difficulties they overcame. Those who become ill-mannered, on the other hand, tend to split up and repeat the cycle in their subsequent relationships.
Kindness lives in the little moments and the brief interactions. It costs nothing beyond the tiny bit of discomfort that arises when you don’t feel like being kind, but it pays huge dividends should you ever need a teammate rather than an opponent.