Imagine a really unpleasant smell. Notice what your eyebrows do, how your eyes squint, how your nostrils close, and how your lips close or make that shape they make when you’re saying, “Ick.”
Imagine stepping in something gross feeling on the bathroom floor in your socks. Check your eyebrows, your eyes, your nostrils, and your lips again.
Imagine hearing an unfunny joke, the sort that offends you down to your toes. Similar face contortions?
This is disgust. Every one of those slight facial movements, together or separately, conveys a lack of respect, love, kindness, generosity, or gratitude to your spouse. Most of us are quite astute at noticing even the briefest signs of disgust. People with Borderline Personality Disorder are especially astute and even more distressed by them than the rest of us.
Notice your face as you imagine walking into the kitchen to find your husband following through on his promise to you to try some more adventurous cooking. He’s get a recipe from the internet by his side and he’s stepping outside his comfort zone to try something new. Is your face relaxed, happy? This is the one he was hoping for, the one he wants to kiss, the one he wants to bask in, the one that makes cooking for you fun.
As the next ingredient goes in, the smell from the stove becomes awful. Feel that pull on your face? Switch your attention from your sense of smell to what you’re seeing and feel it melt.
Your wife is sick. Vertigo. The room is spinning. She walks unsteadily or she crawls to the bathroom. You go to her side, feeling protective and caring. Check your face. It’s soft and open.
As you reach for a wash cloth to wipe her face, your socked foot steps in something squishy. Feel your disgust face coming on? Switch your attention to how her head feels instead of your foot and feel it go soft and gentle again.
You’re at a party, having a good time. You hear that unfunny, offensive joke. In your spouse’s voice. Your brows, eyes, nostrils, and lips begin to assume the position. Disgust. Look around the room for something to smile at. You can discuss morals later, in private. Right now, you are partying.
I don’t deal in ways to become a better spouse. I’m concerned with how to enjoy being married. I don’t really care that even the hint of disgust on your face will generate shame or anger on your spouse’s face. I care what the look of disgust on your face does to all your other values: your love, your respect, your caring, your generosity, your gratitude. You cannot feel them with that expression on your face.
Regardless of what your mate does, you have control over your thoughts and therefore your expressions. Don’t play victim and accept unhappiness. Take control and enjoy being your best self.

About the author

Patty Newbold

I am a widow who got it right the second time. I have been sharing here since February 14, 2006 what I learned from that experience and from positive psychology, marriage research, and my training as a marriage educator.


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  • Very powerful, Patty. We are such careful face readers. It has served us well for many thousands, but it can also hurt our relationships. Thank you for reminding us and painting those vivid pictures.

  • Yes, I can remember an ex-boyfriend who used to get a look of superiority on his face when people said things that he thought were naive or not insightful or whatever it was that he thought he was better at. I’m sure he didn’t know that look was there, but people reacted to it. (You notice I said “ex” boyfriend.)

  • what about when you are on the receiving end of the disgusted looks? How can I reframe that experience to make it less hurtful? And for my children? Thanks for your blog and thoughts.

  • Great question, Kelly. If we Assume Love, there seem to be two possibilities: (1) you’re married to someone with no clue that expression causes hurt — and you could try reporting this without shaming or taking a superior position (as in, “I relive some of the worst experiences of my life when I see that expression on your face right now.”) or (2) you’re married to someone who feels one-down and seeks to feel superior for a while — and you could try to show some very specific admiration or respect at another time.
    If neither of those fit, or if the remedies don’t help, it’s also possible you’re married to someone who’s using you, not in love with you. But the rest of his or her behavior should make that clear. When that is the case, you must protect yourself and your children.
    Until you’re pretty sure this is the case, punishing or shaming only puts you in the hurting seat. It doesn’t strengthen the love between you.
    While you’re waiting for those two remedies to do their magic, you can make a practice of diverting your attention. You say something. You get the look. You say, “Gorgeous day today, no?” or “I’m really glad we got the green carpet.” or “When is the Eagles game?” Takes your mind off the look, so you don’t let any of that nastiness sink into your own heart.

  • Thank you for your posts and thoughts. I benefit greatly from your encouragement and have several of your posts just about memorized. 🙂

  • Hi, Patty.
    I’m not writing to comment on the “Disgust” post — although I love that and plan to try it on an upcoming visit to relatives whose housekeeping sometimes triggers disgust in me.
    Instead, I’m writing (far too many words — sorry!) with an update on my life, and a request for advice.
    I don’t know whether you remember what I wrote you earlier — and I may have used a different email address, so you can find it only if you’re able to search by my username. Anyway, something like four years ago, I wrote you when I was spending a lot of time with a man who loved my companionship but didn’t return my romantic interest. It took me a while to act on your advice to stop spending time with him, but it was a huge relief when I did.
    That was over two years ago. Since then, I haven’t taken any direct steps to meet a romantic partner, but I have been doing things that make me happy and energized:

    • starting and leading an improv Meetup for middle-aged people,
    • kayaking with my dog,
    • attending community theater,
    • traveling more,
    • spending more time with my parents,
    • becoming a regular at my favorite hat shop, and
    • starting work toward a career change (through informational interviews, my first academic class in years, and relevant volunteering)

    I feel good about my activities and about no longer doing the online-dating dance that was dragging me down.
    The only thing I don’t feel comfortable with is how high the activation energy is for my hypothetical romantic reaction. (You sound geeky enough to get that metaphor.) It would take an awfully amazing guy to make me bother pursuing a romantic relationship, given my high satisfaction with my current life, together with how frustrated I’ve been with my past efforts to find someone compatible. And the only guys I’ve felt that excited about in the past have been more self centered than is good for me.
    If I continue as I am, I’ll keep living alone and enjoying it, but I know I’m missing out on what a good relationship can bring to one’s life.
    I know your blog is about being happy in an existing relationship, not about finding/creating a new relationship, but if you have any thoughts to share, I’d love that.
    Thank you for your wonderful blog, which I’ve been reading for a decade, despite being single!

  • Roodle, you are now in the RIGHT place to meet a guy you can spend the rest of your life with. As long as some of your enjoyable activities give you a chance to meet new men frequently, one is going to be thrilled to meet you.
    And he’s not going to get through your self-protective higher activation level with romantic or lust-inducing moves. He’s going to ask you what you’re doing and share what he’s doing and reveal things about himself that make it clear he’s got values that you value, including some strengths you admire, and he values your values and even some of your strengths that are greater than his. And you’ll melt. You’ll know right away.
    I did, twice, and I married both of them. But I dismissed the second one once first. I was fascinated, but I made an offer to teach him something he wanted to learn during our first, very long, conversation and he didn’t call. So I decided I was wrong about him. Six weeks later, he called, we got together, I became sure he was the one, and we’ve been married for thirteen years.
    But I was single 11 years after my first husband died, waiting for someone worth marrying.

  • Patty once again your words ring so true to me. I saved my marriage with your words ” the only road to love is through love” and now you add to my mantra once again. I do want to be my best self and that person is not a victim !!! If I feel disgust it is my choosing. Your words are very empowering and I thank you for sharing with us.

By Patty Newbold

Patty Newbold

I am a widow who got it right the second time. I have been sharing here since February 14, 2006 what I learned from that experience and from positive psychology, marriage research, and my training as a marriage educator.

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