As I walked to the Kindred Spirit mailbox, I had a prayerful conversation about marriage. My marriage. The marriage of my oldest daughter. My friends who share their ups and downs of marriage. I noticed a theme in my reflection of “contempt”. The Gottman Institute provides marriage resources and research around contempt in our marriage. Personally, I’ve witnessed in my life, a dangerous place of believing or questioning if your partner was the ideal choice. I hesitated to write that sentence because it sounds so prideful, but, for the sake of growth and vulnerability, I would like for you to see the real side of me in my marriage. A pattern I’ve witnessed in my thinking which leads to action is entertaining the idea of comparability and “better than”. Just seeing that in black and white makes me cringe.
I talked to my husband about this one morning and openly talked about some of my thoughts and feelings. We also discussed words like “reality”, “boundaries”, “change”, and “mindset”. When I shared the danger of a partner feeling like they married someone that is “beneath them” or “not compatible” or “too different”, he shared with me his thoughts, too. He stated that we could all choose to concentrate on the weaknesses and the differences to the point of never seeing what they bring to the marriage–the positives, the giving, and the sacrifices. Yes. That is true. However, how do we build admiration and plant seeds of hope while also acknowledging the reality of things that need to change in a marriage. How do we live in our reality with the hope for change, the joy of intimacy, and the thrill of being together. Remember the first days of dating your partner? I would argue that one could get those feelings back with a deeper, richer meaning if we are willing to put our pride to the side and concentrate on our behavior and the thoughts we nurse like an old wound. You can’t change your spouse, but you can change how you respond to them. You may question if you struggle with thoughts of “better than”. Here are some subtle examples that build to a perfect storm of contempt:
I wish my spouse would…..(add high expectation here)
If they would just…………..(add all the ways you wish they would change)
Why am I always the one to……………….(add that running list you like to announce on the days you are overtired and done)
You never…………(add all the high expectations of your fantasy partner)
You always………….(add all their mistakes since the day you met them, and make sure you keep up mentally with all the hurts they have caused you)
My favorite expression from my mom is “Bloom where you are planted.” She gave this quote to me in high school. Last night, my youngest daughter made a picture from a poem she read and liked,
No surprise this morning to find my Gottman Institute email sharing about the dangers of contempt and a 30 day challenge of growing in fondness and admiration.
Did you notice the flowers? The seeds planted? AH! I love when God connects all the dots. Maybe you and your spouse don’t have this issue; however, I would challenge you towards prevention. Life will happen and your marriage will be impacted. The best of marriages are hit hard when loss, financial challenges, hurting children, feelings of failure in your career, and/or poor life choices settle in. No one is immune. Engaging in this 30 day challenge may help more than your marriage relationship. Do you have contempt for a child, coworker, friend, or family member? Consider sewing seeds of admiration.
If you decide to take the challenge, let me know how it goes if you feel up to it. No pressure. Sometimes things are better kept between you, God, and the person you love.
Parish and Anna