Contempt is the corrosive acid in any relationship. Relationship experts, John and Julie Gottman, define contempt as verbal (e.g., name calling) and non-verbal communication (e.g., rolling your eyes at something your conversation partner says) that says, “You are an inferior human being compared to me.”
Contemptuous statements are disrespectful ways of putting down your spouse, your children, friend or your colleague. An immediate response to contempt is to defend against it with counter-criticism, counter-contempt or by withdrawing from the relationship.
The Gottmans discovered such a strong relationship between contempt and the potential for divorce that they trained counselors to help stamp out contempt as quickly as possible. An attitude of fondness/admiration and a culture of appreciation are the antidotes to an attitude of contempt. Expressions of fondness, admiration and appreciation tell your partner, child, church member or friend, “I am glad that you are a part of my life journey. I really like you.” And for those to whom you have made life commitments, like your spouse and children, you are saying, “I continue to choose you above all others.”
Through admiration and appreciation, you communicate that you accept the other, miss them when you are apart and think of them fondly. Expressions of fondness and admiration are especially important for marital friendship, which keeps love’s passion alive.
Toddy Holeman, professor of Pastoral Counseling at Asbury Theological Seminary, offers the following five things you can do to express fondness and appreciation to others:
- Just stop it! Contempt is the cancer in all relationships and is unbecoming of followers of Jesus. The only people I can think of to whom Jesus showed any contempt were the Pharisees (e.g., den of vipers/white washed tombs). But he never showed contempt to his disciples, even when they failed.
- Make a list of all of your partner’s (or child’s) admirable qualities and highlight those qualities of which you are particularly fond. Think on these things the next time you are engaging in contempt-thinking.
- “I appreciate ____ about you.” Set a time each day to express at least one point of appreciation to those you love. Be as specific as you can and as descriptive as you can when you experienced this characteristic or saw your loved one in action.
- Practice Philippians 4:8. Use Philippians 4:8 as a “thinking template” and find one quality in your loved one which matches each of the Philippians 4:8 terms. (“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things.”)
- Family gratitude journal. Buy a journal or notebook or binder that all family members will share. On a weekly or daily basis, make a point to write down one way each family member has blessed you that day or week.
Gottman, John. (1999). Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. New York: Three Rivers Press. Read Chapter 4: “Principle 2: Nurture Your Fondness and Admiration.”
Use the Gottman Card Decks, available or iPhone or Android.
“I Love You and I Like You,” by Elizabeth Jackson
“The Magic of Paying Attention to Your Partner,” PodCast, by Michelle Peterson
Emotional contributor: Dr. Toddy Holeman, chair, Department of Counseling and Pastoral Care at Asbury Theological Seminary
Executive editor: Russ Gunsalus
Curator of content: Dave Higle