In his book Why Marriages Succeed or Fail, John Gottman identifies four characteristics of marriages that signal the marriage is beginning to deteriorate. These four characteristics are:
Criticism (personality attack) often crawls in when complaints (objective statements of unmet needs) have 'fallen upon deaf ears.' Unlike criticism, complaints are statements of personal reality (I am disappointed we're not going to have dinner together tonight; I was looking forward to being with you.) Complaints do not target the shortcomings of the other party, whereas criticism does this expressly. (you always.....)
Complaint. "There’s no gas in the car. Why didn’t you fill it up like you said you would? Criticism." Why can’t you ever remember anything? I told you a thousand times to fill up the tank, and you didn’t. "
When dealing with criticism, the receiver is left in the awkward position of having to take a personal hit, often times below the belt, or appear defensive. Since criticism is aimed at the character of a person, it is extremely damaging to the relationship.
Questions to ask yourself:
- When you are upset, do complain or do you tear someones character apart?
- When do you fall into the trap of criticizing?
- Is there a particular person who you are in this pattern with?
- What payoff do you get when you are criticizing? Does it make you feel relieved, justified, vindicated, excused from relating?
- Who have you witnessed criticizing from your childhood? What characteristics did this person exhibit and what was the outcome of the criticism? Do you have any of these characteristics?
Contempt, perhaps somewhat self explanatory, often runs in on the heels of criticism. When criticism fails to work, (and it always does,) we often resort to using contempt. Contempt can be both verbal and non verbal - Sarcasm and cynicism are types of contempt. So are name-calling, eye-rolling, sneering, mockery, and hostile humor. In whatever form, contempt — the worst of the four characteristics — is poisonous to a relationship because it conveys disgust. It’s virtually impossible to resolve a problem when your partner is getting the message you’re disgusted with him or her. Inevitably, contempt leads to more conflict rather than to reconciliation.
The antidote for contempt is respect and connection. By staying connected, to ourselves and then to our relationships, we are able to maintain our humility and love.
Questions to Ask Yourself:
- How often do you express admiration to people you are in relationship with?
- Are you able to receive in admiration in your relationships?
- How are you connecting in your relationship in positive and restorative ways? Or, how would you like to be?
- Are there any situations you would like to get through without falling prey to receiving or dispensing contempt?
- When do you fall (or have you fallen) into the trap of contempt? How is it triggered?
- Whom have you witnessed displaying contempt from your childhood? Do you have any of these characteristics?
Romans 12:18 "If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone."