4 Minutes 4 Marriage Eradicate Contempt

Greetings, 4Mers!

How was your week? Did you manage to stop yourself before a criticism left your lips? Did you restrain it to be a simple complaint like: “I felt (disappointed, frustrated, sad) when you (specific, one-time behavior)?”

Or did you find yourself more aware of others being critical? It’s always harder to see our own faults. (That’s one reason we have children—to point our failings out to us.)      😉

 We must keep working on reducing criticism because if it isn’t eradicated, it can deteriorate into contempt, John Gottman’s second step to the destruction of a marriage. Contempt differs from criticism in its intent to insult and hurt our spouse.

Think of how you looked at your spouse with such love when you exchanged vows. Can you picture that moment? Recapture the hope and excitement? We never dreamed we would want to hurt the one we chose to spend our life with. Most of the time we still don’t want to, but during a heated disagreement….

Remember the eye-rolling woman in last week’s entry? Such body language makes it clear we have lost our admiration for our partner and are feeling contempt. So do insults and name calling, hostile humor and sarcasm. And you know that particular tone of voice. Doesn’t it almost make a shiver run up your spine to imagine it?

We are in contempt’s grip when we can’t think of a single good thing to say about our spouses. Our admiration decays; our respect disintegrates. And what do we all need in our relationships? Yes, love and respect. So it’s absolutely vital to avoid any temptation to express contempt.

We’ve promised to love and honor, in good times and in bad. In the heat of an argument, we are in the midst of one of those bad times. That’s when we desperately need to show our loved one honor, in order to protect our marriage.

Thoughts to watch out for: “I’ll show him;” “Two can play at this game;” “She’ll need me before I’ll need her;” or any desire to slap our partner with our words.


1. Stop the angry retort that feels so justified; bite your tongue if you have to. Take a deep breath and exhale slowly. Try a gentle touch like taking his hand in yours, or break the cycle with good natured humor, or suggest you both take a break until you are cooler. But don’t ignore the issue that set off the disagreement. If you take a break, set a time when you will be ready to talk again.

The touch, humor, or break helps us calm ourselves. It stops the cycle of negativity that pulls us down during a disagreement. “She” says something that hurts him, so “he” strikes back verbally, then she escalates and hurts him worse. But if we do something to calm ourselves, we can halt the progression and reconnect.

Try to hear the fear behind the other’s attack, rather than the ugly words.

2. Another way to counteract contempt and replace negativity is to express honest admiration daily. It might be hard when contempt has blocked our awareness of the good qualities of our spouses, but remember, we all need love and respect. A simple “thank you”—for making dinner, running an errand, or taking out the garbage—can reopen communication. Better yet, a well-deserved compliment can do wonders for any of us. If we can set aside our negativity, we won’t need to look too hard for something to admire about our spouses, whether it be their appearance, their achievements at work, or the way they interact with our children.

3. Are you old enough to remember the old television quip, “The devil made me do it?” Look upon derogatory thoughts about your spouse as temptation that must be resisted. Whenever you have a negative thought, force yourself to counter it with three things you appreciate about him or her.

Sadly, if contempt is common in your relationship, your spouse may not trust your small gesture and continue to react with hostility at first, but persevere. Before long, you will be the one on the receiving end of encouragement.

God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your strength, but with the temptation will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:13, RSV)

Thank you investing four minutes in your relationship!

Betty Arrigotti


Gottman, John M. & Silver, Nan (1995). Why Marriages Succeed or Fail: and How You Can Make Yours Last. Simon & Schuster Adult Publishing Group.

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