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.
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.