I can’t stand the way he gets angry, pouts and tries to get even with me when he’s mad,” a young woman named Cathy said to me recently during a counseling session.
“Right,” her husband, Tim muttered. “And Doctor David, you don’t know what she’s like behind closed doors either.”
Coming to me for counseling because of marriage problems, I could quickly see that Tim and Cathy were in significant trouble. After ten years of marriage, they had reached a dangerous point in their marriage where they felt nothing but contempt for one another.
Researchers are clear—when contempt and acrimony flood a relationship, a physical or emotional separation is not far behind. This research isn’t based on rocket science, but rather practical principles, as well as Biblical truths, that we cannot abuse each other without severe ramifications.
We all must ask ourselves some challenging questions:
- What causes contempt in a marriage?
- What is my part in this growing contempt?
- How can I change these problems?
Contempt doesn’t drop out of the sky onto our marriage. Sadly, we create it. As much as we might want to blame our mate, we must critically look in the mirror to see if we are immature and creating havoc by our behavior.
Contempt is the product of:
- Relentless criticism
- Settling for mediocrity
Because contempt is so debilitating to a marriage, as well as to our personal well-being, we must be ruthless in our endeavor to discover the truth about our actions and attitudes. If you are willing to take a ‘fearless moral inventory,’ you’ll usually discover various forms of immaturity that must be addressed.
Getting rid of immaturity is not simply something good for our marriage and personal mental health—though it sure is good for that—but it is our Biblical responsibility as well.
Consider this Biblical imperative:
“Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.” (I Peter 2: 2-4)
While this Scripture is filled with instruction, pay special attention to what we must do—rid ourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind—and the results that occur when you do it—grow up in your salvation. Imagine the impact we could have on our marriage if we kept our side of the street clean by ridding our lives of malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander. What would happen if we chose even one of these—slander—and asked the Lord to cleanse our life of this destructive habit?
Slander (purposely injuring our mate with words) is not only immature, but incredibly destructive. While we may rationalize our behavior, claiming our mate is the cause of actions, this doesn’t cut it. We are called to grow up in our salvation, and one way we do this is by choosing to be loving even when it’s not easy to do.
Five Steps to Take to “Grow Up” in Your Marriage
- Agree to end criticism. Criticism is not only immature, but is incredibly destructive. Criticism undermines self-esteem, destroys intimacy, and creates divisiveness. Instead, make specific requests of what you’d like from your mate.
- Use encouragement liberally. Mature people notice efforts made by their mate and encourage them. They know their mate will never be perfect, and when positive efforts are made to meet those requests, they offer encouragement.
- Refuse to slander your mate. Give up negative labels. Don’t stoop to calling names, making judgments, or dishonoring your mate. No matter how discouraged you might feel, never put your mate down.
- Keep your side of the street clean. Ask the Lord to work on your heart. Notice and work on your part of the dance. Don’t enable or reinforce destructive behavior. When one person changes, the other will change as well.
- Reinforce and maintain clear boundaries. Don’t be afraid of consequences for harmful behavior. Just as you hold yourself to honorable behavior, maintain clear expectations to be treated honorably by your mate and to treat your mate honorably. Agree ahead of time on consequences for immature and dishonoring behavior.