When we first meet our spouse and eventually get engaged, all we can think about is the many things that we love about him/her…even the idiosyncrasies. But, after we get married, those cute quirks can become the bane of our existence. Over time, we decide that it is our job to tell our spouse about the many things they do that annoy us. But, this only drives a wedge between us. Criticism is TOXIC in a marriage.
I received an email the other day from a woman who is experiencing this kind of grating criticism from her husband. No matter what she does – even the way she breathes and walks – has become an annoyance to her husband. And, he lets her know it.
Sadly, this kind of pattern is all too familiar to many married couples. And, I have seen it destroy marriages when left uncorrected.
This past weekend, my husband, Dave, and I, had the privilege of hosting a marriage conference with two other couples who are also involved in marriage/relationship ministry. One of those couples were best-selling authors and speakers, Shaunti and Jeff Feldhahn. You can read Shaunti’s “Ask Shaunti” blog, by clicking here.
During their session, they spoke about the main needs of men and women when it comes to marriage. As a professional researcher, Shaunti has talked to numerous men and women and asked them what main question they ask themselves every day when it comes to their marriage. The one question that Shaunti heard the most from women was, “Am I loved?”. The one question men asked the most was, “Am I able?”.
These questions tell us a lot about the different heartfelt needs of men and women, but it also shows us that men and women share a common need for affirmation, especially from their spouses.
Women want to be affirmed that their husbands still love them and appreciate all they do for the family.
Men want to be affirmed that their wives perceive them as capable in their efforts and are thankful for all they do for the family.
When we criticize our spouse, we are going directly AGAINST this need and deeply wounding our spouse and our relationship. Yes, we need to point our spouses in the right direction, in a loving way, when he/she is in the wrong. But, we don’t need to stay on them…picking and nagging…about every little thing they do that we might find irritating.
That gets old really quickly. It breaks down our confidence. It makes us feel unloved and disrespected.
Sometimes we criticize them so often that it becomes a terrible habit, and we do it time and time again without even thinking about the precious person on the other end of our verbal jabs.
So, how can we recognize if we are caught in this destructive pattern? Here are a few signs that we might be too critical of our spouse:
1. We find certain sounds and mannerisms that our spouse naturally makes (like breathing, chewing, walking/stepping, laughing, coughing, etc.) to be annoying, and we criticize them daily about it…even when they have no control over it at all.
2. We say “I don’t like it when you…” to our spouse every day…not just on occasion. And, we rarely, if ever, say, “I like it when you…”.
3. We have talked about what our spouse does that annoys us in a public setting – with our spouse present – almost as if we are making fun of him/her or trying to damage his/her reputation.
4. We have sarcastically berated our spouse in front of our kids on more than one occasion.
5. We have seen and heard our kids criticize our spouse, saying the exact cuts that we ourselves have said before.
If we can answer “yes” to #1 or #2, then we are, at best, a little too critical. And, we need to nip that in the bud right away, before it is too late. If we can answer “yes” to #3, #4, or #5, then I highly encourage you to go see a marriage counselor or pastor. When our kids start repeating our critical comments and behavior to our spouse, then we are living in a toxic home environment that is going to spiral out of control if we don’t get help.
If we don’t stop our damaging critical behavior, our spouse will naturally seek out the affirmation elsewhere – at the workplace, friendships, hobbies, or at the very worst, a romantic relationship (“How to Save Your Marriage After an Affair”). And, our kids will think that criticism is just a normal part of marriage and carry these expectations into their relationships.
We CAN’T let this happen. We CAN turn things around. But, we have to start TODAY.
We must be our spouse’s biggest encourager. I love this quote that my husband has shared many times…
We have pledged to love our spouse forever, so we need to let him/her know his/her strengths loud and clear. This world tends to beat us down at times, but our homes need to be the place where we feel encouraged, renewed, and refreshed…not criticized and judged.
We don’t get married to be cut down. Marriage is a partnership, and partners find the best – not the worst – in one another.
Encouraging words are fresh air for our souls and fuel for our marriages.
Let’s tell our spouse one or more specific things that we love about him/her every day. Try it for one month and see what happens. Are you up for the challenge? You can start today by sharing this post and tagging your spouse with an encouraging word.
Thanks for reading and sharing! Be blessed.
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