Complacency and Contempt:
Recently I heard someone say “familiarity breeds complacency”, a slightly different version of the old saw “familiarity breeds contempt”. It got me thinking about some of the most familiar of relationships and what can too easily happen to them.
All relationships of any real quality take sustained effort. In perhaps the most familiar relationship–committed partnership or marriage–it often becomes the easiest place to become complacent. Once the relationship is “won”, it’s pretty common for partners to stop putting in the effort that went into the thrill of the chase, otherwise known as dating.
We get too familiar. We see each other every day for years on end. We start taking the other person for granted. That tendency, along with the tendency to be less careful about the other’s feelings and be more concerned with our own, breeds the contempt.
Not all partnerships show contempt but many have at least moments when something close to the feeling of it happens, at least on the inside. Don’t believe me? Have you ever rolled your eyes at your partner or done the mental equivalent in response to something he or she said or did? That’s contempt.
What’s the solution or alternative to complacency or contempt? It’s choosing a culture of appreciation-on purpose–with conscious effort on a regular basis. You may be wondering about now what the heck a culture of appreciation might be. The most basic, simple starting point is saying “Thank You”. It’s saying thank you for the big things each person does all the way to the little things. Yes, I really do mean saying “thanks for cooking” even when it’s a frozen pizza or “thank you for staying up all night in a steamy bathroom to help our toddler with croup” or “thank you for sticking by me when it all hits the fan”.
Beyond thank you, it’s also remembering what each of you appreciates in the other person. Often, some of the very things we were drawn to in our partner can later be the things that make us the most crazy. As time goes on, it can be important to remind yourself what parts you really appreciated instead of focusing on the parts that make you nuts. Rehearsing your appreciation for the wide variety of your partner’s good qualities helps you retain the fondness and actively loving feelings you had at the beginning.
Finally, it’s important to verbalize all that appreciation out loud for your partner to hear. I like to recommend to my clients that they make this a daily habit. It might look something like this:
“I really appreciate how hard you work for our family.” “I appreciate your goofy sense of humor and making me laugh.” “I appreciate that you listen to my boring stories even when I’ve told them a million times already.” “You are a really considerate person and I appreciate that about you.”
So, what are you waiting for? Go practice and tell me how it went.
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