Is Contempt Ruining Your Marriage?
What is contempt, and is it ruining your marriage? Keep reading to learn more.
When my husband and I were three months into our marriage, we had an opportunity to attend a weeklong marriage retreat through his work. We traveled to a remote island in Canada only accessible by boat and spent days connecting with one another. We learned from people who had been on the journey of marriage way longer than we had.
The keynote speaker for the trip was a licensed psychologist who had been married for decades. We were on the edge of our seats as he shared about mistakes he’s made in his marriage. On one particular night, he shared about one of the most subtle yet dangerous destroyers of marriage: contempt.
What is contempt?
Contempt is defined as “the feeling that a person or a thing is beneath consideration, worthless or deserving scorn.”
Being the starry-eyed, 21-year-old, new wife that I was, I couldn’t imagine I’d ever treat my husband with contempt. He was my gift, my treasure!
But that’s the catch—contempt is subtle, and we often don’t realize we’re doing it.
Contempt is an attitude of the heart that manifests in the way we look at and speak to our spouse. Contempt toward your spouse can look like disrespect, disdain, excessive sarcasm and insults.
Examples of Contempt
Has your husband ever made a suggestion about the kids that made you scoff and think, “Nice try, but I’m pretty sure you know nothing about taking care of the kids”?
Have you ever rolled your eyes and casually brushed off your husband’s attempts to make love to you, reducing him to a mere annoyance?
Are you ever openly critical of the way he manages his time or the way he does (or doesn’t) clean up after himself because you hate his approach and methods?
If you can relate to those examples, contempt has sneaked into your marriage. But there is still hope for your future!
Contempt in Our Culture
Being contemptuous toward your spouse is really normalized in our culture. I’ve heard women refer to their husbands as if they’re completely incompetent. It’s a really easy small-talk topic to fall into.
Think about some of the most popular sitcoms in the last ten years. How about Claire and Phil Dunphy on Modern Family? Phil is portrayed as a goofy yet charming screw-up while Claire is uptight and put-together. Yes, they love each other, and their marriage seems to be a normal and happy one, but she often treats him like an incompetent child. It feels funny, normal, and relatable.
Our husbands are fueled by our respect; our encouragement pushes them forward to be better men. Contempt deflates them and tempts them to stop trying. We don’t have to settle for marriages that look like the ones of our culture. If we’re intentional about weeding out contempt, we can cultivate thriving marriages that stand out as a bright light in a dark world.
Contempt says, “You are worthless, disgusting, and beyond redemption.” Love says, “You may not be perfect, but neither am I. I choose to be kind and patient with you even when it’s hard.”
Are you able to recognize contempt in your communication with your spouse?
What the Bible Says About Contempt
According to Proverbs, “It is better to live in a corner of a roof than in a house shared with a contentious woman” (21:9) and “A constant dripping on a day of steady rain and a contentious woman are alike” (27:15).
A constant dripping? I don’t know about you, but I want to be a warm source of kindness and love to my spouse and family. I don’t want to be the reason they’d rather live in a corner of a roof than sit in our living room together!
The cure for contempt
Thankfully, contempt has a cure. And it’s simple.
Love is the cure for contempt.
It may not be easy, but it is simple.
1 Corinthians 13 lays out exactly what it means to practice love. Many of us remember this passage being read at our wedding ceremonies, but it’s not intended to be recited once and then forgotten. It’s a lifeline; an absolute necessity for our marriages to thrive the way God intended.
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (NIV)
Reread 1 Corinthians 13 slowly. Read it multiple times if you can. Ask the Holy Spirit to highlight one or two areas he wants to help you with.
Contempt may have a sneaky way of getting into our marriages, but it is no match for the powerful love of Jesus Christ alive in us.
Wife Step: If you’ve noticed contempt in your marriage, take action to remove it as soon as possible. Repentance and prayer are great first steps. As you continue in your journey, you may want to pursue guidance through a godly mentor or professional counselor.
Are you wanting to grow your faith and your marriage? The A Wife Like Me Collective is open for a limited time to Founding Members! Join here.
Bailey Richardson is the wife of a Paul Bunyan look-a-like, the mama of a growing little family, and a woman on the wild adventure of pursuing Jesus. She lives in a small lake town in Minnesota where her family is highly involved in their local church and Young Life, a global non-profit youth ministry. A self-proclaimed “recovering perfectionist,” Bailey loves writing for and connecting with women who want to more deeply experience the grace, freedom, and abundance that comes from following Jesus. You can find her at baileymrichardson.com or on Instagram @baileymrichardson.