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One of the areas of our life most affected when we go through major spiritual change is our relationships.

Fellow-workers, employers, family, friends, and even enemies.

Significant others, partners or spouses.

So today’s letter is about our romantic relationships or marriages.

I’ve shared this with you before, but one of the most precious things I nearly lost during my time of deconstruction, changing my theology, leaving the ministry and the church, was my marriage to Lisa. We have made it and are better now than ever. But if we didn’t have some marriage knowledge and tools, we might not have survived the traumatic shifts we were experiencing.

(*** disclaimer: This isn’t to say that I believe all marriages should stick together. Sometimes separation and divorce is the healthiest thing for one or both of the partners. I just wanted to put that out there that I don’t assume because you are married that you should always be or that if you have experienced divorce that somehow you failed.)

One of the books I’ve always fallen back on and always recommend for marriages is David Schnark’s, Passionate Marriage. I’m glad I have that book and had read it.

But there’s more!

Some years ago, after reading about it in Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Blink, I read John Gottman’s book, The Seven Principals for Making Marriage Work.

Even though he gives seven principals, he says there is one major one that makes or breaks a relationship.

Gottman can listen to a couple for 5 minutes and determine with 91% accuracy whether the couple will divorce or not.

Do you want to know what the key ingredient is?

First, let me tell you about Gottman’s “Four Horsemen” that will split up a marriage. They are:

  1. Criticism: where you attack the person, not just their behavior.
  2. Contempt: name-calling, eye-rolling, sneering, mockery and hostile humor.
  3. Defensiveness: blaming the other for all the problems.
  4. Stonewalling: where you disengage, stall, deny, or ignore problems.

But the one thing that will split up a marriage faster than anything is #2, contempt. If Gottman detects this in the first five minutes of a session with a married couple, that helps him determine if they’re going to make it or not. If one of the partners conveys disgust about their spouse, it is virtually impossible to resolve any problems. This, he claims, is the deadliest poison to a marriage.

I believe he’s right. I’ve seen it myself after years of giving marriage counseling!

The fact is, this is the deadliest poison to any relationship. I see it online all the time. Many times every day. If someone expresses disdain, disgust or contempt for another person, it is absolutely impossible to have a mature and fruitful conversation. It’s just not going to happen. The truth is, it pollutes the whole thread and turns everybody off until everyone eventually leaves. I witness this far too often.

One of the most difficult things to do in a marriage relationship is to allow the other to grow at his or her own pace while they let you grow at yours. When Lisa and I were in the ministry and in the church, we were pretty much on the same page. In 2010, after I had my waterfalls dream and started developing what I temporarily call “The Z-Theory”, plus started experiencing difficulties staying in the ministry, we could feel the bonds between us starting to stretch.

It got to the point where we sometimes felt we were not only no longer on the same page, but no longer in the same book.

But time… four or five years in fact… has taught us that indeed we were in the same story. Ours! Our different spiritual journeys has shown us that we can grow together not only in depth but in breadth as well. We have widened the skirts of our tent and assumed even more under our roof.

Our relationship, our marriage, is richer for it.

Fortunately, we avoided the biggest pitfall… contempt. Somehow we maintained our mutual respect for one another, even though we may have been completely mystified by and irritated with one another at times.

I entrusted her to her own journey. She entrusted me to mine. We trusted that we would eventually feel like we were sharing the same story.

It worked.

So I guess you need to ask yourself:

  • “Do I have contempt for my spouse?”
  • “Does he or she have contempt for me?”
  • “What am I going to do about it?”

Anyway, I sure hope this helps guys! I know it would have helped me when I needed it most.

I’d love your comments!

Your friend and brother,