He dropped a heavy bag on the train seat next to mine. I commented on the black velvet suit draped over the top. “That’s from another life, another time,” he said with a sigh. “Besides, it’s a long story.” I told him I had an hour and half.

He had just been released from rehab and was a Christian who had journeyed far from his true home. He was getting his life back on track but was not so sure what to do about his wife.  Her barrage of negative words had taken a toll. He figured the marriage was over. “If I’d known a white girl could be that mean, I’d have married a black girl!” I assured him that disdain was an equal opportunist and proceeded to relate pieces of my own journey to stop dishing out contempt. When he retorted, “Damn, woman, you are a bitch,” I knew we had a mutual understanding.

We call it by different names: emasculation, degradation, misogyny (hatred of women), misandry (hatred of men), belittling, domineering. The root problem, however, is the same: contempt. We all wrestle with it (though sometimes it is less obvious). Look again at Genesis 3. It’s dripping with contempt. It entered the world when sin did. If you don’t wrestle with it, contact me, as I’d love to meet an alien.

Need more proof? When was the last time you felt disgusted with yourself for gaining weight?  When annoyed with your spouse, do you talk down to him/her? Or maybe you just stonewall. Inwardly you deem the person so beneath you that they don’t deserve an answer. This is especially cruel. Do you judge women by their appearance, reducing your approval if they are unattractive? If a male acquaintance is not thoughtful or doesn’t notice you, do you immediately brand him a jerk? Do you tend to blame others?  “Why can’t my wife put anything back where it belongs?”  Whether it’s directed at self or others, it’s still contempt. And it’s toxic.

A simple Google search defines contempt asthe feeling that a person or a thing is beneath consideration, worthless, or deserving scorn.”

Marriage therapists say the number one marriage killer is contempt. Yes, you read that correctly.

Author and psychologist Dan Allender, with his unique ability of hitting the nail on the head, describes contempt as a satanic, dark evil. When we choose the path of contempt, we join evil, he says.  We take the worst of what this world has to offer and sign up for membership. He goes on to say our marriage is meant to give us a taste of what we’ll never know: hell, and a foretaste of heaven.  Marriage is like a petri dish. We can grow disease or we can grow something that is meant to be redemptive, new, and good. Notice I didn’t use quotation marks. This comes from my notes taken at a Dan Allender’s Marriage Training The Intimate Mystery Conference.  

Jesus is about making all things new. He extends that opportunity to us. We have a powerful capacity to join him, to partake in making all things new.  It can start in our marriages.  We can bless our spouse instead of cursing. When we give in to contempt, it’s like adding germs to the petri dish. When we belittle, when we demean, when we act as if our spouse is too stupid to get what we are talking about, when we sigh with exasperation, when we roll our eyes, we are choosing contempt. And that, my friends is cursing. It’s joining evil.

As I talked with the man on the train, his eyes teared up. He didn’t want to call it quits on his marriage. I told him I had no idea how hard it is to quit drugs so I couldn’t compare, but that committing to a contempt-free marriage was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.  We got off together at the Trenton stop.  I turned and this six-foot-four-inch man with biceps the size of my thighs wrapped his arms around me and thanked me.  I kissed his cheek. We both said we’d pray for each other.

That, my friends, is blessing.

I will forever be indebted to my courageous husband, John Thomas, for first naming contempt in our marriage and choosing to fight for the true me buried under layers of dragon skin.

Shari Thomas