How to Tell When a Relationship is in Critical Condition

John Gottman’s over forty years of research has uncovered a few telltale signs that a relationship is in serious trouble, he calls these the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. I will share one of these in my Frontline Blog each week with the hopes that if you see any of these showing up in relationships that you are counseling you can take action to expose them and remove them so that they don’t bring death and destruction to that relationship.

The first and most deadly is Contempt. Contempt is defined as:

A complete lack of empathy. An inability to understand another’s thoughts, feelings or motivations so that the other person no longer registers as someone worthy of serious consideration much less compassion or love.

When contempt shows up relationships wither and die.

Contempt often masquerades as intellectual superiority, or justifiable condemnation. We hear it when someone says; “they deserve what they got” or “you made your bed now sleep in it!” Whatever form it takes it always separates and isolates with the ultimate response being “you are not worth my time and effort”.  It shows up in relationships when one partner says to another, "I have had enough of your (fill in the blank) and I’m simply not going to take it anymore."

Jesus was asked what was the greatest commandment and he give us two. To love God and to love our neighbor as ourselves. When asked to clarify the second he told a story of a Jewish man who was attacked and left for dead. Along came a Priest and a Levite who passed him by and left him in his miserable condition. This in contempt in its purest and most vile form.  But then a Samaritan (the hated race) came along, picked him up, took him to an inn and made sure that he was cared for. This Samaritan had every reason in the world to walk on by too. He was culturally indoctrinated to see Jews as the hated race deserving no compassion or kindness. Yet he broke from his culture and loved this man. This is love in its purest and most holy form.

I will share two principles that we can take from this that directly relates to relationships.

  1. We must never, never allow contempt to creep into the way we treat any person. Be they the most unlovable, unreasonable or unworthy person ever born. We break the second commandment of Christ if we hold contempt in our hearts. Jesus is our supreme example when he looked down from his agony on the cross and proclaimed, “Father, forgive them they don’t know what they are doing”. We therefore have no excuse for contempt.
  2. We must never, ever allow contempt to enter into our most sacred of relationships; our marriage. This means that no matter how many times we are tempted to “blow off” our partner or no matter how many times we believe we’re justified to think we’re the one that is being treated unfairly we are commanded to listen, to serve, to care and to understand. This is an impossible commandment to keep unless we also have the same power that possessed Jesus living in us. We have the Spirit of Christ giving us the power to love beyond our meager human capacity.

As spiritual leaders we must be ready to spot contempt in all its forms and rebuke, encourage and teach those who have been entrusted to us. We are to exhort them to put on a heart of compassion, kindness and humility. 

I could speak more on this but I don’t want to weary you with words. If ever I can be of service don’t hesitate to reach out. Next week we’ll look at another of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.