Sunday, February 28, 2016

The #1 Cause of Divorce? (And how to thwart it)

Over on Facebook, blogging colleague and pastor Jeff Schultz linked to an article from Woman's Day which cites John Gottman, a marriage researcher, on what the number one predictor of marital breakups. According to the article, Gottman has done more than forty years of research to come to an unsurprising conclusion:
Dr. Gottman noticed a clear pattern among couples that didn't stay together, identifying what he says is the #1 predictor of divorce. Ready for it? It's contempt. Yes—as in eye-rolling, disgust-feeling, negative-thinking contempt.
It makes sense. Through the years, I've not only seen marriages end when one or both spouse develops feelings of contempt for the other, but also friendships. "I love you," I've heard spouses (or friends) tell their partners (or friends), "but after what you've done, I can't respect you."

Contempt is the result of disappointment. Sometimes disappointment is appropriate. People have failed to keep their promises or failed to work at our relationships. Sometimes disappointment is based on unfair expectations of the other person.

But I have found, when spouses (or friends) have reached a place of "I-love-you-but-have-contempt-for-you," divorce (or an end to relationship) is not inevitable.

What's needed, which the article doesn't address, of course, is an influx of repentance and grace. The only source for these things is the God we know in Jesus Christ. (That's probably why Christian couples who pray together have far lower divorce rates than the general population, by the way.)

Fortunately, God is willing to give us the power to authentically repent for our contempt-inducing behavior and to authentically forgive when we've been hurt. We let the risen and living Jesus Christ into our lives. We let Him cover our sins, amend our lives, and renew our relationships.

"...clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ," Romans 13:14 says.

And Christians are told in Colossians 3:12: "
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience."

When we clothe ourselves with Christ, taking Him on as our God and Savior, we clothe ourselves "with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience."

This doesn't mean that we accept it when a spouse or a friend hurts us. Christians aren't to be doormats in our relationships and forgiveness isn't acceptance of the sins perpetrated against us.

Be angry and do not sin," Ephesians 4:26-27 tells us, going on to say, "do not let the sun go down on your anger,  and give no opportunity to the devil."

Let each other know when you have grievances and even fight about it, but do so with love, with a willingness to forgive, with a willingness to own our wrongdoing, with a desire to understand, and with a commitment to reconciliation.

The simple fact of the matter is that we imperfect, sinful human beings will disappoint each other. That's inevitable. But when, filled with God's help, we speak the truth to those we love in love (Ephesians 4:15), we thwart the devil, the sin of the world, and the sin in ourselves, forces that would prevent us from knowing the fulfillment of loving, mutual relationships, and we can grow together in love.

Despite not including the need for Christ in our marriages and friendships, the Woman's Day article is worth reading, because it gives people looking to rebuild respect in their relationships hints on how to do that. Check it out.

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