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Recognizing Destructive Factors in a Marriage

POSTED: March 19, 2017 9:07 p.m.

One of the most difficult role we pastors play is that of marriage counselor. We are happy, in fact delighted, to have couples seek assistance from a Christian perspective. Yet in the midst of that, it can be heartbreaking for us to encounter couples that could have saved themselves a lot of misery, and perhaps even their marriage, had they understood fully the effects of key relationship factors.

We pastors can find ourselves in a conversation about lawyers and dividing up children and assets when so many problems in the relationship could have been resolved with an understanding of the effects of the spouses’ actions and words on one another and their marriage.

We pastors, and Christians in general, should take advantage of the best of psychological and sociological research, and much of that tells us how we can catch problems in a marriage before they snowball out of control and into a divorce attorney’s office.

John Gottman, a professor emeritus of psychology, has identified four factors in a couple’s communication that can lead to problems and divorce: defensiveness, stonewalling, criticism, and contempt.

While all four of these factors can be destructive in a marriage, one is by far the most destructive and predicts disaster for a marriage. And that is contempt. The single most important sign that a marriage is in trouble is when one person responds to their spouse with contempt – the feeling that a person or a thing is beneath consideration, worthless, or deserving of scorn.

One might think criticism would be the most devastating. It is not. If I criticize my wife by saying something like, “That was a really insensitive thing you did,” she would likely respond defensively. But, we are and remain on the same plane of authority.

When we respond with contempt, we are coming from a superior plane. Contempt is any response that comes from a higher level. Many times it can be an insult. It is an attempt to put that person down, on a lower level.

Gottman has found that the presence of contempt in a marriage can even predict such things as how many colds a husband or wife has. In other words, contempt in a marriage is so stressful that it even depresses one’s immune system.

Think of contempt as related to disgust. And disgust is a complete rejection of that person. Obviously, if contempt is present in a marriage, there is a lot of work to be done.

When evaluating relationships and these four factors, we often see gender differences. For instance, women more than men tend to be critical, and men respond more than women by stonewalling. Then, the women may become more critical and the cycle continues. This cycle, however, can be worked on and stopped.

Contempt, on the other hand, shows no gender differences; it is unique in that regard. If contempt is seen in a marriage, not a whole lot more matters.

We all should look closely at the communication patterns in our marriage. We ought to ask ourselves how our spouse may perceive our responses.

The good news is that no matter how far down the line a couple is toward a separation or divorce, there is always hope. I know that sounds a bit naïve, but there really is. I have seen nothing short of miracles happen in marriages with some good counseling and a little work.

If you perceive what may be troubling issues, ask your pastor to look closely at your marriage and provide some insight or resources. Remember, God loves marriage and He really wants you to be happy.

Trust me, we pastors want to help. Give us that chance.

One of the most difficult role we pastors play is that of marriage counselor. We are happy, in fact delighted, to have couples seek assistance from a Christian perspective. Yet in the midst of that, it can be heartbreaking for us to encounter couples that could have saved themselves a lot of misery, and perhaps even their marriage, had they understood fully the effects of key relationship factors.

 

We pastors can find ourselves in a conversation about lawyers and dividing up children and assets when so many problems in the relationship could have been resolved with an understanding of the effects of the spouses’ actions and words on one another and their marriage.

 

We pastors, and Christians in general, should take advantage of the best of psychological and sociological research, and much of that tells us how we can catch problems in a marriage before they snowball out of control and into a divorce attorney’s office.

 

John Gottman, a professor emeritus of psychology, has identified four factors in a couple’s communication that can lead to problems and divorce: defensiveness, stonewalling, criticism, and contempt.

 

While all four of these factors can be destructive in a marriage, one is by far the most destructive and predicts disaster for a marriage. And that is contempt. The single most important sign that a marriage is in trouble is when one person responds to their spouse with contempt – the feeling that a person or a thing is beneath consideration, worthless, or deserving of scorn.

 

One might think criticism would be the most devastating. It is not. If I criticize my wife by saying something like, “That was a really insensitive thing you did,” she would likely respond defensively. But, we are and remain on the same plane of authority.

 

When we respond with contempt, we are coming from a superior plane. Contempt is any response that comes from a higher level. Many times it can be an insult. It is an attempt to put that person down, on a lower level.

 

Gottman has found that the presence of contempt in a marriage can even predict such things as how many colds a husband or wife has. In other words, contempt in a marriage is so stressful that it even depresses one’s immune system.

 

Think of contempt as related to disgust. And disgust is a complete rejection of that person. Obviously, if contempt is present in a marriage, there is a lot of work to be done.

 

When evaluating relationships and these four factors, we often see gender differences. For instance, women more than men tend to be critical, and men respond more than women by stonewalling. Then, the women may become more critical and the cycle continues. This cycle, however, can be worked on and stopped.

 

Contempt, on the other hand, shows no gender differences; it is unique in that regard. If contempt is seen in a marriage, not a whole lot more matters.

 

We all should look closely at the communication patterns in our marriage. We ought to ask ourselves how our spouse may perceive our responses.

 

The good news is that no matter how far down the line a couple is toward a separation or divorce, there is always hope. I know that sounds a bit naïve, but there really is. I have seen nothing short of miracles happen in marriages with some good counseling and a little work.

 

If you perceive what may be troubling issues, ask your pastor to look closely at your marriage and provide some insight or resources. Remember, God loves marriage and He really wants you to be happy.

 

Trust me, we pastors want to help. Give us that chance.

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