Don’t Let Criticism Creep into Your Marriage
So Don’t Criticize Each Other Any More. Try instead To Live In Such A Way That You Will never Make Your Brother Stumble By Letting Him see You Doing Something He Thinks Is Wrong. - Romans 14:13 (TLB)
Guess what? You will complain about your partner from time to time. We all do. What else is new? Complaining is normal, but complaints can be voiced in a way that a spouse will hear them and not become defensive.
For example, instead of focusing upon what annoys you, talk about what you would appreciate your spouse doing. Your partner is much more likely to hear you and consider your request if you show appreciation first, and then offer positive criticism.
Talking about what you don’t like just reinforces the possibility of its continuing in greater intensity. The principle of pointing toward what you like also conveys to your partner your belief that he or she is capable of doing what you have requested.
Doing this consistently, along with giving praise and appreciation when your spouse complies, will produce a change. Affirming and encouraging responses can literally change a person’s life because we do want and need others to believe in us.
Criticism is the initial negative response that opens the door for the other destructive responses to follow. Criticism is different from complaining in that it attacks the other person’s personality and character, usually by blaming.
Most criticisms are overgeneralized (“You always . . .”) and personally accusing (the word “you” is central). Most criticism comes in the form of blame, and the word “should” is usually included.
Criticism can be hidden, and is often camouflaged by joking. When confronted about it, a person will avoid responsibility by saying, “Hey, I was just joking.”
A passage in Proverbs says, “Like a madman who casts firebrands, arrows, and death, so is the man who deceives his neighbor and then says, Was I not joking?” (Prov. 26:18,19, Amp.).
Criticism is usually destructive, but it is common to hear critics say they are just trying to remold their partners into better persons by offering some “constructive” criticism. Too often, however, criticism does not construct; it demolishes.
It does not nourish a relationship; it poisons. Often the presentation sounds like this: “There is one who speaks rashly like the thrusts of a sword” (Prov. 12:18, NASB).
Criticism that is destructive accuses, tries to make the other feel guilty, intimidates and is often an outgrowth of personal resentment.
You have heard of “zingers,” those lethal, verbal guided missiles.
A zinger comes at you with a sharp point and a dull barb that catches the flesh as it penetrates. The power of these sharp, caustic statements is forceful when you realize that one zinger can undo 20 acts of kindness.
A zinger has the power to render many positive acts meaningless. Once a zinger has landed, the effect is similar to a radioactive cloud that settles on an area of what used to be prime farmland.
The land is so contaminated by the radioactivity that although seeds are scattered and plants are planted, they fail to take root. It takes decades for the contamination to dissipate.
The kind acts of loving words following the placement of a zinger find a similar hostile soil. It may take hours before a receptive or positive response to your positive overtures is possible.
Another form of criticism is called “invalidation.” It too is often the cause of marital distress. When invalidation is present in a marriage, it destroys the effect of validation, as well as the friendship relationship of marriage.
Sometimes couples get along and maintain their relationships without sufficient validation, but they cannot handle continual invalidation. This is yet another example of one negative comment destroying 20 acts of kindness.
H. Norman Wright is a licensed Family Counselor and child therapist and has taught in the Grad. Department of Biola University. He is the author of more than seventy books