We all know that one sure-fire way to get cancer is by smoking cigarettes. What if there was one thing that is cancerous to marriage? Today we’re going to look at one feeling that could destroy your marriage and what we can do to defend ourselves against this.

What is this one thing?

You might think, “Really? One thing? Marriages break up for a lot of reasons!”

Well, Dr. John Gottman has identified that the number one factor identified in marriage break ups is contempt.

What does contempt look like?

Well, it might look like sarcasm, cynicism, name-calling, eye-rolling, sneering, mockery, hostile humor. You can even see it on a persons face sometimes when they lift a corner or pull back the side of their mouth.

Contempt increases conflict and comes from long-simmering negative thoughts. It is literally unhealthy: Couples who are contemptuous of each other are more likely to suffer from infectious illnesses.

A great example of contempt in a marriage is found in the history of the Bible in the story of Michal, one of the wives of King David. When David went into exile, he left Michal behind, and while exiled got more wives. Think about it, she’s left behind trying to explain to people why he didn’t take her with him. In the scene where David returns (2 Samuel 6) and is celebrating victory, Michal sees his excitement and as soon as they meet, she cuts him down. She mocks him with sarcasm, which is contempt.

Contempt conveys disgust and anger.

The story actually ends by saying she had no children to the day of her death. While the marriage stayed intact as an institution, obviously they were so done with each other there was no sexual intimacy, never mind emotional.

Contempt is lethal to a marriage.

Wives: Listen Up!

While nobody deserves to be treated contemptuously, there is a gender difference regarding the impact of contempt on the marriage bond: contempt from a wife is more serious than contempt from a husband. Men are hard-wired for respect – they need that. Individuals who doubt themselves underestimate the strength of their partner’s love. I.e., disrespect means you don’t love me.

What Can We Do?

If you’re reading this, or have listened to our show, and are like “OH NO! Our marriage is toast…”, make changes now.

Cultivate what Dr. Gottman calls a “culture of praise and admiration”. You can do this by:

  • Expressing genuine appreciation. We talked about this in more detail in Episode 4
  • Being focused on what your spouse is adding to your life (not taking for granted)
  • Touching your partner verbally and physically every day in an affectionate manner.

This is very deliberate – you can’t just wing it! Don’t be a statistic, combat contempt today!

Q&A Section

Mark asked: “It seems a good marriage, as we have observed, goes through different stages of growth. Are these common to all marriages? Can they be delineated? What hinders or halts progression? What enhances progression?

Listen to this episode to hear the answer!