If Your Spouse is Critical…

Does any of the following sound familiar?

  • That’s not the right way to load the dishwasher. They won’t get clean that way.
  • Why are you going this way? It takes longer and there are more stop lights.
  • Why can’t you put things away when you’re done?
  • That’s not the right way to discipline the kids.
  • If you would just do it the way I told you, you wouldn’t have this problem.

In most every marriage, there will be one spouse who is more particular about things. They are more black and white and more concerned about the “right” way to do things. This is typically the spouse who is accused of being critical.

There will also be one spouse who is not that particular about things. They see thing more in shades of grey than black and white, and they are more concerned about getting things done than doing them the “right” way. This is typically the spouse who feels consistently criticized.

This post is meant to address the latter. But first…

TO THE SPOUSE ACCUSED OF BEING CRITICAL…

If you’re the one accused of being critical, you probably don’t view it as being critical. You probably view it as trying to be helpful. You’re just trying to make things better.

Everyone will need to offer suggestions or correction to their spouse from time to time. That’s normal. But when these attempts to be helpful are frequent and unsolicited, they can easily come across as critical rather than helpful.

Here’s the problem with frequent and consistent criticism:

  • Your spouse will take it personally. Your spouse will hear your attempts to make things better as attempts to make them better. This will feel parental and demeaning to them. No adult wants to feel like they’re being parented, and it can cause them to become defensive and defiant.
  • You come across as dominant and controlling. Think of the last time you felt like you were being controlled and told what to do. How did you feel when that was happening? My guess is…not good. Did it make you feel like cooperating with the person telling you what to do? My guess is…no. Trust me. You don’t want to be seen as dominant and controlling. It’s not attractive!
  • You may get what you want, but you will breed resentment in your spouse. You may get your spouse to do things the way you want them to; especially if they are passive or uncomfortable with conflict. But don’t confuse their compliance with agreement. They may do things the way you want to avoid a disagreement, but inside they will nurse a growing resentment toward you that will eventually erupt into a more serious issue.

Now someone is probably saying, “You mean I can never speak up about anything or address something that’s wrong?”

That’s not what I’m saying. Of course there are times when we have to speak up, share our preferences, point out a problem, or deal with differences. But there is a way to do that can help your spouse from becoming so defensive.

Remember this before you correct or criticize:

  • Not every hill is a hill to die on. There are some things that just aren’t that important. So they didn’t load the dishwasher the “right” way. At least they loaded it. At least they were trying to help. Let the small things go. It will give you more credibility for the bigger things. (And if you’re not sure is something is a big or small thing, ask a trusted friend who will be honest with you.)
  • Make sure your complimenting more than criticizing. For some people, spotting everything that’s wrong with something comes easier than spotting everything that’s right with something. Work hard to not be that person. As a general rule of thumb, make sure you’re handing out five times as many positives as negatives. (Ok…if that sounds like too much, then start with three times as many positives as negatives.) It will make your negatives much easier to hear and address.
  • When you really need to point out something, preface it with love. In the ancient New Testament Scriptures, we’re told about “speaking the truth in love…” (Ephesians 4:15) Yes, we need to be truthful with our spouse, but it’s love that makes that truth hearable and digestible. And you need to show that love, not just when you want to address something that’s bothering you, but at other times as well.

Now, let’s address those for whom this post was written…

TO THE SPOUSE FEELING CRITICIZED…

If you’re the spouse who is feeling criticized, you probably have accumulated some feelings of hurt and resentment. Those feelings may have even morphed into anger. So telling you not to get defensive when your spouse is criticizing you would be like telling you not to jump when someone startles you. So let’s approach this from a different angle.

Here are two things to do when you’re feeling criticized by your spouse…or anyone:

  • Don’t take it personally. Try to remember that the thing that’s irritating your spouse is more about their wants, their need, and their personality than it is about your deficiencies. They are the ones who need help with something. It may feel like they’re trying to change you, but really they just need your help.
  • Listen for the grain of truth in what they’re saying. When we feel criticized, it’s easy to let our defensiveness write off everything our critic is saying. But chances are, there is a grain of truth in what they’re saying…even if it’s a small grain of truth. You don’t have to agree with everything they’re saying, but pay attention to the grain of truth in what they’re saying, and do something about that. Because this is the area in which you need to grow.

To the person feeling criticized by their spouse, here’s the bottom line…

If your spouse is critical…learn from it.

I know it’s no fun, but it’s a critical part of learning to live together. (Did you get the pun?)

Control, Coronavirus, and Other Complications of Life

In these day when our news, our social media, and our lives are consumed with the Coronavirus, one thing is painfully clear…

WE ARE NOT AS IN CONTROL AS WE WANT TO BE.

We never have been. Since the Fall in the Garden of Eden, we have done whatever we could to subjugate and eradicate the feeling of not being in control. And we’re still doing that.

Some try to convince themselves that the government will get control of this. Others repeatedly tell themselves that God is in control of this. And others militantly follow social distancing plans and hand washing procedures to stay in control of this. These are all good things, but they still fall short of putting us at ease and quenching our thirst for control.

 

WHY IS IT SO IMPORTANT FOR US TO FEEL LIKE WE HAVE CONTROL?

  • We want to feel in control to keep our fear at bay. There’s a lot of fear out there. Health fear. Economic fear. Scholastic fear. Fear is swelling because we feel we can’t control these things.
  • We want to feel in control because we lack trust. We don’t trust our government to make the right calls at the right time. We don’t trust others to do what they should do to keep their distance, or to keep food on the shelves, or to keep helping when we’re in need. Then we don’t trust God to intervene as we hope…despite what we might profess.
  • We want to feel in control, because it helps us maintain a sense of self importance. We want to feel that we’re different and special. But we feel out of control when we realize we’re no different from everyone else.

 

In one way or another, there’s a bit of control freak in all of us. But here’s the thing…

WE ARE NEVER IN COMPLETE CONTROL!

There will always be things we can’t control. It’s a given in life. The quality of our life is not dependent on keeping control of everything, but rather in how we respond to the things we can’t control.

  • It’s not about making fear go away, but rather about going on in the face of fear.
  • It’s not about trusting someone to fix the problem, but rather trusting someone in the midst of the problem.
  • It’s not about being above everyone else, but rather being in it with everyone else.

 

WHAT TO DO WHEN WE’RE NOT IN CONTROL.

Even Christians have control issues at times, but we don’t need to strive for control, because…

  • In the face of fear, we’re told…“for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” – 2 Timothy 1:7 ESV.
  • In the face of mistrust, we’re told…“Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.” – Proverbs 3:5 ESV.
  • In the face of self-importance, we’re told…“The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” – Matthew 23:11-12 ESV.

Like the rapids in a white water rafting trip, the Coronavirus is part of the trip down stream. It may raise our adrenaline, but we don’t have to be in control of the rapids. We just need to stay in the boat and listen to our guide.

In times of trials, you may not be able to control anything else, but you can control to whom you listen. Whether you’re struggling for control over work, marriage, children,  finances, or pandemics, the questions is still the same…to whom is your heart listening?

How Parents Can Bring Out the Best in Their Teenagers

In my last post, How Teenagers Bring Out the Worst in Their Parents, I talked abut the very difficult job of raising teenagers, and how it can effect parents.

In this post, let’s talk about how parents can bring out the best in their teens. It starts when you’re aware of your own issues of control, self-esteem, memory loss, fears, and aspirations. (Check out the previous post for more on this.)

Once you have addressed those things in yourself, there are some things you can do to bring out the best in those opinionated, strong-willed, hormonally challenged aliens we refer to as teenagers:

Read moreHow Parents Can Bring Out the Best in Their Teenagers

How Teenagers Bring Out the Worst in Their Parents

I typically write posts focused on marriage, but this post is going to veer more into the area of parenting. Specifically, parenting teenagers, and more specifically, how teenagers bring out the worst in their parents.

As a former youth pastor, I have a special place in my heart for parents of teens. And, as the father of two grown children, I still have the twitches that can only come from teens or Turretts.

Read moreHow Teenagers Bring Out the Worst in Their Parents

Is Anyone In Control?

Confused child thinking and looking upWhen we’re growing up and we encounter things beyond our control, we tend to look for someone who is in control.  We look for a parent, a teacher, a referee, a police officer…anyone who can exercise some control over our situation.  But if that doesn’t work, we head down one of two paths:

Read moreIs Anyone In Control?