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Marriage and Family


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04/01/2010 - The beginning of a relationship is often full of excitement, passion and joy. Think about your relationship at its early stages and compare how it is now. Initially, small habits your spouse has may have been seen as "cute". Now, are they just irritating? Early on, doing chores together may have seemed somewhat enjoyable because this was your new life together. Are chores now only something that is avoided or a point of contention? Early on you may have wanted to give your best to your spouse and would go through all costs to avoid hurting him/her. What about now? Do you feel slighted when it seems you are not receiving the best, then quickly say hurtful things? Early on you may have had great patience with the other person when you felt hurt. What do you feel now? Contempt?

Contempt is the second horseman of the apocalypse according to Dr. John Gottman. Contempt happens when a person begins to despise another person and view them with disdain. Gottman states that contempt "is poisonous" to a relationship. Gottman argues, "Contempt is fueled by long-simmering negative thoughts about the partner. You're more likely to have such thoughts if your differences are not resolved." Sarcasm, criticism, name calling and disdain are all forms of contempt and when they are present in a disagreement, resolution cannot happen. Look at yourself and notice if you are looking upon your spouse with anger and harboring bitterness toward him/her. Also, if you seem to be scrutinizing all the minor things about your spouse and can't seem to see them in a positive light, then you may be feeling contempt. Some other signs to watch out for are increased fighting with no resolutions, demeaning and cutting remarks and resentment.

When you are in a disagreement and notice that the conflict is turning into a fight, you must take control of yourself. Give yourself an opportunity to cool down, collect your thoughts and gain control of your emotions. Reenter the discussion only when you can keep yourself composed and your tongue tame. Being able to disagree in a loving and respectful manner can go a long way in preventing contempt from forming, and can bring about healing if it has already set in.

Take some time and look upon your spouse. Picture that person you met however long ago and remind yourself of what attracted you to him/her. Notice his/her strengths and qualities, as well as what you admire and respect. Then, if and when you notice those annoying or irritating traits, understand this. You chose to accept him/her for who he/she was, accept him/her now for who he/she is.

* Gottman, J.M. (1999). The seven principles for making marriage work. New York: Three Rivers Press.

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