The One Thing that Can Destroy Any Relationship

Dr John Gottman of the University of Washington is recognized as one of the foremost marriage researchers and has written a number of books on the subject.  Dr Gottman can predict with 90+% accuracy within the first three minutes of a couple having a conversation whether the relationship he is observing will survive over the long-haul or not.  Within the criteria that he uses (four communications styles and coping mechanisms) one is called the “Four Horseman of the Apocalypse” which is taken from the sixth chapter of Revelations.  Gottman uses this metaphor to describe communication styles that can predict the end of a relationship.  The four styles are:

  • Defensiveness – this style is used when we feel accused of something and we think that if we tell our spouse our excuse for taking the action we did they will back off.  Defensiveness is essentially self-preservation and it ignores the needs and feelings of the other person.


  • Criticism – women are more prone to use this style and it is essentially an attack of our mate to the very core of their being.  This differs from complaining that focuses on the behavior where criticism focuses on the person.


  • Stonewalling – men are more prone to use this style and it is a way of avoiding conflict either to avoid our own feelings or because we are afraid.  This can be pictured as closing the door on finding resolution.


  • Contempt – this style treats others with disrespect by using sarcasm, ridicule, name-calling, and/or body language that makes another feel worthless.

While we could spend considerable time on each one of these, I want us to concentrate on the fourth one because this is the one thing that can destroy any relationship, including our relationship with God.

Contempt is defined as:  a:  “the act of despising: the state of mind of one who despises; b: lack of respect or reverence for something.”   It has been said that at the root of contempt is pride and self-righteousness. We don’t have to look very far at all to find men who are living their lives in a prideful and self-righteous fashion.  In fact, we may be looking at one every morning as we look into the mirror.  Considering the fact that contempt can destroy any relationship, I think it well worth our time to consider what God’s word has to say about the two key components of contempt.
Consider King Uzziah of Judah.  Early in his reign he was faithful to God and followed the direction of the Lord.  He is noted for having skilled men design machines for shooting arrows and throwing large stones to protect the city if it were under attack.  History tells us that he became known far and wide and in today’s terms he would be considered famous.
But then his enormous pride led to his demise.  2 Chronicles 26:16-19 tells us “But after Uzziah became powerful, his pride led to his downfall. He was unfaithful to the LORD his God, and entered the temple of the LORD to burn incense on the altar of incense.  Azariah the priest with eighty other courageous priests of the LORD followed him in.  They confronted him and said, ‘It is not right for you, Uzziah, to burn incense to the LORD. That is for the priests, the descendants of Aaron, who have been consecrated to burn incense. Leave the sanctuary, for you have been unfaithful; and you will not be honored by the LORD God.’  Uzziah, who had a censer in his hand ready to burn incense, became angry. While he was raging at the priests in their presence before the incense altar in the LORD’s temple, leprosy broke out on his forehead.”   Uzziah, once a powerful king, lived out the remainder of his life with leprosy and separated from his family and the house of the Lord.
How many times have we seen a guy allow personal pride and power lead him to rely on his own abilities and their lives end up with less than desirable results?  Proverbs 16:18 states “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.”  Haughty is defined as “blatantly and disdainfully proud”.   While God created us with particular talents and abilities, He did so because He desired us to use them to glorify our Heavenly Father.  Our sinful nature brings with it the temptation to allow our accomplishments to push God aside and become a self-proclaimed god ourselves.  We worship our trophies and see ourselves as better than those around us.  Luke 16:15 give us a clear message of God’s view when Jesus said “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God knows your hearts. What is highly valued among men is detestable in God’s sight.”  So my question to you is, are you using contempt of others to justify your own power or purpose?  What about your relationship with God?  Is your spiritual behavior telling God that He is worthless in your life?  Let me leave you with two thoughts from Proverbs.  Proverbs 11:2 states “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.”  God wants us to be proud but He does not want that pride to be about us.   His desire is that we recognize that the talents and abilities that bring us success were gifts from Him.  Proverbs 18:12 says “Before his downfall a man’s heart is proud, but humility comes before honor.”  The way we can best honor our Heavenly Father is to avoid allowing contempt to destroy relationships.  God’s man uses his talents and abilities to pick people up and demonstrate the tremendous love that God has for us all.

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