In marriage, there are wounds that are instant; their devastation felt upon impact—a betrayal discovered, an addiction revealed. The pain is immediate and disorienting.
Then there are wounds that slide under the radar until their damage is too extensive to hide. It’s a deterioration that moves slowly, toxins steadily seeping into the bloodstream of what was once a healthy body. The more it is absorbed, the more decay and dissension it produces, and the vitality that once characterized the marriage is replaced with bitterness and resentment.
I don’t know what happened, we say. How did something that used to work so well come to a place as hard and exhausting as this?
We’ll never find a one-size-fits-all answer to the question of how relationships begin to break, but there are a few guaranteed poisons that will do nothing but leech the life out of marriage.
“It’s his fault.”
“It’s her attitude.”
“He won’t communicate.”
“She won’t listen.”
Blame has short-term memory loss. It’s a big fan of calling attention to the deficiencies in our spouse while conveniently failing to recall the toxic contributions we keep bringing to the table. Grace finds no home within the confinements of blame, as we become the man who was forgiven a huge debt only to turn around and refuse to forgive a much smaller one (Matthew 18:21-35).
Blame loves to point fingers and is more concerned with accusations than with truth. Everything can become the fault of the other, even the small, nuanced, annoying details of daily life. We may not say it out loud, but our hearts continue serving indictments.
Blame also has a tendency to exaggerate. “He NEVER responds well.” “She ALWAYS criticizes.” Really? Never? Always? For blame to work effectively, it must protect and preserve the accuser. Extremes are a handy-trick when it comes to elevating ourselves in order to reduce our spouses.
As we begin to assume superiority, we move into the realm of contempt. Dr John Gottman at the University of Washington did a study in which he found contempt to be the single greatest indicator of marital trouble and ultimately, divorce. Blame beats down the accused, creating room for its close ally, comparison.