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Too Simplistic In Light of Serious Marital Problems?

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A critic states, "Love and respect is too simplistic for couples who have more serious problems."

Yes, many couples have serious problems beyond love and respect. However, those serious problems do not justify neglecting love and respect in favor of the alternative: hate and contempt. Not only is hostility and disdain destructive of intimacy, such behavior opposes God's command to love and respect in marriage (Ephesians 5:33).

By way of analogy, a person may have a life-threatening melanoma and needs to undergo radiation and chemotherapy. This person has a grave situation. However, the medical profession does not foolishly say, "Giving this person food and water is too simplistic since food and water do not directly solve this person's problem with a life-threatening cancer." Who is suggesting that food and water alone is the remedy to the melanoma? We all know that food and water do not directly remove the melanoma threat. However, telling the patient that they can ignore eating and drinking UNTIL AFTER they get the life-threatening cancer under control is to kill the patient! Neglecting food and water is not a good idea when healing a patient, nor is neglecting love and respect in healing a marriage.

When two people do not “eat” love and “drink” respect – but vomit hate and contempt – they will kill the marriage quicker than “more serious” problems will. In order for a couple to address and solve addictions, affairs, and abuse they will need to develop a degree of discipline in coming across with a loving and respectful demeanor - the fundamental attitudes necessary for maintaining harmony while solving serious problems.

No one claims that showing love and respect in the midst of overwhelming obstacles is easy, nor is it an absolute shield against threatening conditions. But evidencing the alternatives – hate and contempt - serve as deathblows to the stability, satisfaction and survival of the marriage.

Research also reveals that love and respect are foundational ingredients for a successful marriage. After studying 2000 couples for 20 years, Dr. John Gottman, a professor at the University of Washington, wrote the book Why Marriages Succeed or Fail. He writes, “... most couples I’ve worked with over the years, really wanted just two things from their marriage - love and respect” (p. 18). He says elsewhere, “In our study of long-term marriages we recruited couples from a wide range of backgrounds who had been married twenty to forty years to the same partner. Despite the wide differences in occupations, lifestyles, and the details of their day-to-day lives, I sense a remarkable similarity in the tone of their conversations. No matter what style of marriage they have adopted, their discussions, for the most part, are carried along by a strong undercurrent of two basic ingredients: love and respect” (p. 61).

Yes, we all need love and respect but are wives particularly sensitive to hostility or the lack of love and husbands particularly sensitive to contempt or the lack of respect? Focusing on gender, Gottman found "... men are far more likely than women to be stonewallers (85%)... men avoid emotional conflicts by going off by themselves… if you ask a male stonewaller to describe his state of mind, he often says, ‘I am trying not to react’… though his wife perceives his silence as an act of hostility… (and)… likely to interpret his response as a rejection of her… she couldn't imagine needing to withdraw over such a minor criticism… (S)uch interactions can produce a vicious cycle, especially in marriages with high levels of conflict. The more wives complain and criticize, the more husbands withdraw and stonewall; the more husbands withdraw and stonewall, the more wives complain and criticize. This cycle must be broken if… marriages are to avoid dissolution… if the wife becomes belligerent and contemptuous, the husband is likely to withdraw even more…" (147 -- 152).

When she feels her husband's hostility and when he feels his wife's contempt, this becomes the most serious of all problems. Let’s illustrate this. A husband and wife are having serious financial difficulties. If through the budgeting process to get out of financial debt, a husband habitually shows hostility and a wife continually shows contempt, they will end up with more serious marriage problems even when the debt is resolved. Who among us grows intimate with someone we think has nothing but hate and contempt for who we are as human beings even though we succeed together at solving a financial crisis? Once we get through the crisis, the relationship ends.

Not only does the word of God command a husband to love and a wife to respect in Ephesians 5:33, research and common sense tell us that love and respect are like food and water. Consequently, if we tell certain couples to hold off on applying love and respect because it is too simplistic in light of their serious problems are we bringing death to the marriage by yanking the life-support? Remember the alternatives!

Emerson Eggerichs, Ph.D.
Author, Speaker, Pastor

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