Last week, we began looking at what John Gottman labels “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. “ These are four specific interactions between spouses that, if not alleviated, will wreak havoc in a marriage and pave the way for divorce. Criticism is the first horse that rides with destructive intent. The second horse that comes close on the heels of criticism is contempt. Contempt can be described as open disrespect from one spouse toward the other. It one-ups criticism in a vile way, and involves tearing or putting down your partner in painful ways.
We have all been around couples where one spouse berates the other. The tension in these situations is palpable. Contempt takes many forms, such as: put-downs, rolling of the eyes, biting humor, name-calling or pointing out inadequacies. It is the communication of general disgust with one’s partner. The form I see most often is where one spouse will use harsh “humor” toward the other all in “good fun” but really means every word.
When contempt enters the relationship, the partner does not point out things in order to fix them. He or she acts in a contemptuous manner simply for the sake of hurting the other, degrading the other, and having an argument. Invariably, it escalates the conflict within a marriage instead of solving any problems. Isn’t it interesting that two people, who started life together, with an attitude of wanting to be together, can reach this point? It happens extremely often.
So what is the cause of this second horse flaring his nostrils in a relationship? Contempt builds up from criticism and unresolved issues within a relationship. It occurs when problems, disappointments, annoyances, or whatever are continually swept under the rug and percolate in the mind of the partner until the only feelings one has for the other are disdain and disgust. It is evident when contempt has galloped into the relationship.
Generally, at this point it takes pretty drastic intervention to get things back on the right track. When one finds that all of their thoughts toward their spouse are negative it is past time to act. Do something! One of the biggest problems in marriages is that people wait until the ship has sunk before they start trying to bail water.
We must not wait to resolve issues. Deal with them when they arise. The mere passage of time does nothing to resolve problems. In fact, time just keeps the problems bogged down and allows bitterness and contempt to creep in.
My wife and I (who just like everyone else have our stuff to deal with at times) have a question that we ask each other almost daily. We constantly inquire “How is everything in your heart?” Why do we do this? Because we have worked with enough people to know that once things get lodged in a person’s heart without being addressed, it always leads to problems.
How is everything in your heart? How is everything in your marriage? Is there criticism? Has contempt moved in? Things don’t change unless we work to change them. Nothing moves unless it’s shoved. Deal with things in the present.
Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry, for anger gives a foothold to the devil. –Ephesians 4:26-27
Walk good. Live wise. Be blessed.