Monday, July 23, 2007

What Makes a Marriage Successful? Not Contempt.

I recently began reading Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell. In the book, Malcolm discusses the different ways that our mind and subconscious process information to come to snap decisions that do not require huge investments of time to achieve. Under these circumstances, time is not a factor or bottleneck in achieving an accurate decision / result; if anything, it is a benefit. Examples of this include intuition, or "gut" feelings about something in the face of what appears to be little or no empirical evidence. The process by which this occurs is called "thin slicing", and in the book Malcolm shows an example of how thin slicing is used to analyze whether marriages will be successful. The relationship study, performed by Dr. John Gottman, demonstrated that contempt, above all other emotions of relationship behaviors, was the leading cause of failed relationships among study subjects. If Dr. Gottman witnessed signs of contempt by either or both partners, he considered this the single most important sign that the relationship was in trouble.

As I continue to experience my divorce, I reflect on what made my marriage successful at times and I come back to the same things over and over. No judgment; no contempt. Contempt breeds resentment, and misplaced contempt breeds guilt. Judgments are righteous, and when we judge we look to conform someone to our point of view. Instead of judging, learn forgiveness. Instead of contempt, practice acceptance. My point, here, is that you must learn to maintain yourselves as equals. Regardless of what trials you experience, what success you share, never allow yourselves to put one of you above the other.

If one partner is valued more than the other in the relationship, then these negative relationship-eroding emotions will surface. Learn to accept each other; and remember to express compassion to one another during difficult times. Remember that compassion is not pity; compassion is the act of relieving a person's suffering. Sometimes we suffer because of the people around us, or even bring it upon ourselves. Try to notice this; pick up on it; point it out. Suffering takes many forms, and to deal with this in an unselfish way we must expression compassion to our partners. One of the greatest things we can do in a relationship is accept our partners at their weakest, act compassionate when our partners choose to express their suffering through anger, and forgive when they make mistakes.

Understand that by this am I in no way saying that this is all you need to have a successful marriage. Other emotions and relationship responsibilities are necessary including trust, love, respect, and consideration to name a few. Hindsight being what it is, though, the role of contempt in failed relationships makes complete sense to me. When I look at the relationships in my life whether they be related to work, friends, or partners, the ones that failed did so because either I or the other person expressed contempt towards each other in some way. Contempt is a viscous way of expressing resignation to another person in that it can be hidden or justified rather easily. It is ego driven since when we choose to express it, we are in effect stating "You are not as important as I am." Well, it is tough to maintain a relationship towing that line, isn't it?

Note: This question was originally answered in Yahoo! Answers. You can view the original question and answers in the Marriage and Divorce community.