|Vol. 15 No. 3 March 2013||
Peter Ray Cole
Christians may find themselves on the brink of divorce – not because of sexual immorality, but because poor communication has eroded the bonds of their marriages. Where communication is concerned, it is often not the topic that creates the tension but the behaviors exhibited during the discussion. Hurt feelings, anger, embarrassment, fears and various other emotions – and how these emotions are expressed – create opportunities for communication to break down. When the question “What were we even fighting about?” is asked during an argument, it is evident that effective communication has long since ceased. When this occurs, the greatest adversary of marriage, the devil, feasts upon these self-inflicted wounds (1 Peter 5:8).
Dr. John M. Gottman, a pioneer in the Marriage and Family Therapy field, has predicted divorce in couples with 96% accuracy based upon his observation of the couples’ communication behaviors alone. His research suggests there are four common reactions exhibited in troubled marriages that Dr. Gottman has labeled, by comparison of imminent danger, “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.” These are criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling. If these four behaviors are commonplace in your discussions, you are melting the bond that holds your marriage together.
Criticism is an illegitimate way to discuss a legitimate complaint. Many times a waiting spouse will say, “You always make us late for everything!” Courtesy, promptness and time management are legitimate issues worthy of discussion; however, attacking and generalizing blame are not effective methods. A legitimate complaint will address the issue, while a criticism makes damaging generalizations about the other’s character. How we approach our spouse will have a great impact on his or her response.
The constant riding partner of criticism is contempt. Comments and behaviors that communicate disgust toward the spouse – like cynicism, sarcasm, hostile humor, sneering, eye-rolling and mockery – exhibit the sinful nature of contempt. After a barrage of criticism, the other spouse often feels the need to demonstrate self-worth by displaying contempt toward the harsh critic.
Now, defensiveness and stonewalling typically ride up to the scene. Instead of staying with the original issue, one or both of the spouses begin to divert the conversation to other spousal failures. “I may be late but at least I don’t have a problem with…!” Spouses can really be nasty here and typically launch a defensive strike that is devastating to the person they should most love (James 3:6).
Stonewalling is almost always present in discussions that have mutated into full-blown, sinful arguments. The spouse shuts down. Arms are crossed, jaws are set, tears may flow and, sadly, communication has ceased. The attacks have escalated to the point where positive Christian discussion can no longer take place. For now, Satan has won. With another ineffective conversation turned into verbal slaughter, the foundation of a once strong marriage continues to crumble.
Christians start their marriage with the conviction that divorce is not an option. The words of Jesus in Matthew 19:9, “except for sexual immorality” are clear in what constitutes grounds for divorce. However, Christian couples are not immune to other factors contributing to marital failure. In fact, Christians need to vigilantly guard this sacred bond in all ways, such as being aware of these “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” and not allowing them to trample their marriages. It is not too late to repair the damage. Stay on topic, control yourself when responding, and honestly listen to the person you promised to stay with for better or worse.
Ernest S. Underwood
Somewhere I read that some birds can go nine days without food, some dogs 20 days, and some turtles 500 days! For man, well, about four weeks is the limit. Sooner or later, nourishment is necessary for all of God’s creatures.
If physical food is essential to sustaining physical life, so is spiritual food necessary to sustaining and maintaining spiritual life. The Bible is the food we need for the soul, but how often do we eat of it?
How can we grow without eating spiritual food? Many Christians are starving to death, not because food is not available, but simply because they are neglecting to eat it. A Bible on the shelf gathering dust is of no more value than food in the refrigerator that is not consumed.
So do not be a bird-Christian or a dog-Christian and go for days and days without eating. Feed on the Word of God every day! Take advantage of every occasion to learn God’s wonderful truth!