More From Dr. Gottman- Contempt

We’ve been looking at the Four Horsemen from The Seven Principles for Making a Marriage Work by John Gottman, Ph.D. Today we’ll take a look at the second of the four negative relational interactions, contempt.

Dr. Gottman calls this particular negative interaction the “worst of the four horsemen.” It is characterized by name-calling, eye-rolling, sneering, mocking, and hostile humor. It can be described as a style of communicating that is sarcastic, cynical, and often conveys disgust. It can have deadly consequences to relationships.

Photo by vladimirfloyd

Photo by vladimirfloyd

Contempt can usually be seen in comments dripping with sarcasm such as, “You’re so lazy. You’re just like your mother. You expect everyone to do things for you.” Or the wife who says “You don’t have enough to pay the bills because you don’t have a job that pays enough. You’re too stupid to get a good job”. Hateful sarcasm like this is intended to deliberately hurt and demean the listener. It’s a direct attack on the person.

In some cases, the attacker sees the argument as a battle to win. The better they attack their spouse, the better they feel about themselves because they are winning. They win by belittling their spouse.

Contempt is a product of long periods of having issues and negative thoughts that are left unresolved. The issues tend to build up like a pressure cooker. This neglect of solving the issues breaks out in harsh attacks directed at the spouse. There are cutting, critical, caustic, demeaning words intended to hurt the other person. They are by nature, a show of deep disrespect.

If you resort to contempt in arguments with your spouse, you need to step back and take a serious look at your relationship. A relationship that is marked by interactions that show contempt is on a course designed for failure.

  • Are you harboring anger towards your spouse?
  • Are there issues that are making you so mad that you have lost respect for your spouse?

You have probably tried to deal with these issues but have lost hope that they can ever be resolved, so you have given up. You may want a better relationship, but you feel that it’s useless because they’ll never change.

Please seek help if you find yourself in a relationship marked by contempt. Resolve in your heart that you want a restored relationship marked by love and understanding. Ask your spouse to go with you to seek counseling. Find someone to help you walk through your issues. Look for a godly couple or counselor who can guide you through the issues that are destroying your marriage.

Humble yourself and pray for God’s grace as you seek to heal your marriage.

More From Dr. Gottman- Criticism

In several of our previous posts we got some interesting insights from The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work by John Gottman, Ph.D. In the next four blogs we’ll look further in to what he refers to as The Four Horsemen – characteristic negative interactions between spouses.

Dr. Gottman acknowledges that all relationships have disagreements that can escalate into harsh and bitter exchanges. In his studies of couples over a twenty-five-year period, he found that there are four distinct negative interactions that are lethal to a relationship. In order, they are: criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling. We’ll look at each of these Four Horseman separately.

But before we dig in, we must understand that we can all be overcomers. We can all choose to take the path of personal growth and reject our negative tendencies. We can choose to forgive even when we have been hurt repeatedly. We can choose to love, even when we have been hated. Jesus said on the cross,

“Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing”. Luke 23:34

We can choose words of life and reject a carnal tendency that speaks words of destruction. By God’s grace we can all find the way to overcome and respond in love.

Now let’s take a look at Horseman number one, criticism.

Dr. Gottman makes a distinction between making a complaint and criticizing. A complaint focuses on a specific action like the trash not being taken out. “Why didn’t you take out the trash?” A complaint looks at the problem and asks for an explanation. More like data gathering without judgement.

Photo by Zdeslav Schreiber

Photo by Zdeslav Schreiber

On the other hand, criticism looks at the specific action but adds a character assault tothe complaint. “You didn’t take out the trash again like you said you would. What’s the matter with you? You always forget and have some lame excuse”.

Criticism attacks the character. It judges, then blames and demeans. Criticism can be extremely hurtful because it attacks the person. Yes, the trash wasn’t taken out on time and the person may have been wrong, neglectful, lazy, selfish, repeatedly forgetful, and defensive. But when we move from dealing with the problem itself to attacking the person, we put our relationship in danger. We move from being able to work on the problem with an eye to a positive solution to an attack on our spouse which is unloving and hurtful.

If you find that you are in a pattern of criticizing your spouse and not just lodging a complaint, you need to reflect on what you say and how you say it. You need to break the pattern and make a daily conscious choice to withhold critical remarks. Pray for a change of heart.

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.

Ephesians 4:29