Pulling again from Dr. Gottman’s excellent book, Why Marriages Succeed or Fail, I’ll be posting about the “4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse” for the next 4 weeks. These are four behaviors that can really harm a marriage: Criticism, Contempt, Defensiveness, and Stonewalling.
This week we’re looking at contempt. Contempt is disrespect, scorn, dismissal, etc. Criticism leads easily into contempt: As we find fault with our spouse, we lose respect. At first, our husband is just incompetent in the kitchen. And then he becomes just incompetent. And then every time he fails, we grow more and more dismissive of his efforts and contempt blossoms.
So what’s the difference between contempt and criticism? Your intention. Criticism is generally motivated by frustration and the desire to improve your spouse. Contempt is motivated by the desire to hurt your spouse.
What can we do to uproot the weed of contempt from our marriage?
- Get rid of all abusive language. This includes name calling, generalizations, and bad talking our spouse when s/he’s not around.
- Avoid all mocking humor or sarcasm. Humor can be a veiled or not so veiled form of contempt, so to be on the safe side, avoid all mockery and sarcasm.
- Actively look for the positives. Make a spouse gratitude journal, in which you record each day 1 – 3 things your spouse did that you are grateful for. Even if they are minuscule, like “Today spouse didn’t fart at the dinner table,” or “Today spouse and I didn’t have a fight,” every little piece of appreciation will benefit your long term relationship.