Extending G.R.A.C.E. to a Critical Spouse, Friday’s Feedback
Editor’s Note: Three weeks ago, I started this series response to this reader’s question about C.R.U.S.H.ing the critical spirit. Two weeks ago, I answered how to have a P.R.A.I.S.E.- filled heart. This week, I’ll be tackling the flip side – living with an overly critical spouse.
Extend G.R.A.C.E. to your spouse.
G. Go to God
Take all your concerns before the Lord…
“Cast all your anxiety on him because He cares for you.” 1 Peter 5:7
and ask for God’s wisdom.
How do you know you’ve received God’s wisdom?
- Spend time in prayer.
- Listen to what His Word says. God will never ask you to do something that goes against His Word.
- If you need to, seek out a trusted godly mentor or leader (a pastor and his wife, a Bible study leader), and ask them to pray with you and help you through Scripture.
- Remember Biblical advice is “wisdom that comes from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” James 3:17-18 Ask yourself theses questions after hearing others’ advice: Is this person trustworthy and actively living a life worthy of Christ? Is this advice coming from pure motivations? Does it promote peace and unity between you and your husband? Does it encourage gentle and respectful discussion if confrontation is necessary? Are you open to being reasonable and realistic – not expecting everything to change overnight, not expecting everything to happen the way you envision them? Is this advice encouraging you to be merciful, gracious, and forgiving? Does the advice exhibit fruits of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self or Spirit control)? Does the person giving the advice sincere in wanting to help you and your husband and he/she doesn’t have an ulterior motive?
R. Recognize there’s a Root Issue
If your husband is being overly critical of you, the issue is probably not really just about a burnt dinner or forgotten laundry. He’s probably has unresolved feelings of anger, frustration, and/or fear. Before you confront your husband, observe him.
- Who may be interfering in your marriage right now – a boss, a coworker, a friend, etc – someone who might be causing your husband to feel like he can’t compete, he isn’t worth it, or he has a right to take things out on you?
- What is stressful in his life right now? What burdens do you observe him carrying?
- In what situations, is he most critical of you? When and where do these situations arise?
- Is he critical of things you actually need to work on or improve on? If so, how can you work to improve in these areas? If not, how can you best express your feelings honestly and lovingly to him so that he doesn’t feel threatened or disrespected?
You may not be able to answer all of the above questions, and it may take some time for you to come up with answers, but these questions should help you on your way to figuring out some of the potential causes. You may not be able to discover the root issue because your husband may be unaware of it himself. This may be something he has to figure out on his own. Accept that, leave it in God’s hands, and be longsuffering in your love.
“Love never gives up; and its faith, hope, and patience never fail.” 1 Corinthians 13:7 (GNT)
A. Avoid Defensiveness.
Offering excuses, justifying your actions whether good or bad, and/or adopting a disputing tone is being defensive. Defensiveness only leads to more defensiveness on his part and yours and escalating criticism. Putting up barriers won’t encourage peaceful resolution. It’s easy to slip into an attack-defend-counter-attack mode without being fully aware of it.
Here’s how to combat defensiveness:
- Don’t treat your husband like he’s your enemy.
- Don’t raise your voice, or resort to name-calling or finger-pointing.
- Don’t offer excuses for your actions if you have made a mistake.
- Do attentively listen to everything he has to say instead of cutting him off and interrupting him to justify yourself. (However, this doesn’t mean stand there and take verbal abuse either. See the point below for diffusing this.) Listen for key words and phrases indicating his feelings and the root issues. “You always…” “You never…” “I don’t understand…” Your husband is frustrated about something and may be blowing things out of proportion in his frustration. Pay attention to what follows these phrases. For example if your husband says, “You always forget the dry cleaning” decoded it may mean your husband is feeling he’s unimportant to you and since having clean, professional looking appearance is important to his workplace, it may be jeopardizing his respect among his colleagues and superiors.
- Do ask him to explain further. If you really haven’t done what he claims you have done, especially after you’ve prayerfully examined your own heart, say something like this: “Honey, I know that you believe I’ve done X and I’m sorry you feel this way because it is not my intention to hurt you. I love you, and I want to resolve this tension between us. I would like to better understand what you are perceiving and feeling, and I am unaware of what I have done to make you upset with me. Could you please explain it to me?“
- Do pick a time to come back to the issue if you can’t solve the problem in that moment. If your husband has crossed the line from overly critical to verbal abuse, gently back off and ask him to give you some space for you both to cool off and do set a time when you can come back together and discuss the situation more rationally.
“[Love] is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful.” 1 Corinthians 13:4-5
C. Cut Counter- Criticism
When your husband is critical of you, that is not the time to bring up all the issues you have with him. Focus on the issue at hand – what he is experiencing, thinking, feeling – and deal with that problem first. Don’t bring up past problems that have been resolved and that you’ve already “forgiven” him for as that will just escalate the verbal battle.
“When I was a child, I talked like a child. I thought like a child. I reasoned like a child. But I have put away my childish ways.”1 Corinthians 13:11
E. Engage in Conversation
Don’t let an issue sit and fester. Let your husband know your thoughts and feelings respectfully by choosing an appropriate time to confront him, using a loving tone of voice, affirming him with physical touch and letting him know you love him before you begin.
Phrases you can use:
- “I’m feeling criticized and I’d like you to tell me what’s bothering you or what you want in a different way please.”
- “I’m feeling defensive and I need a time-out to think through my response so it comes out in a respectful manner.”
- “Here’s what I hear you saying…” and repeat back in a gentle manner, not criticizing back. This will demonstrate at the very least that you are listening.
- Respond with specifics, propose a solution, and ask for his feedback. For example, if you husband says, “I can’t believe you forgot to pay the water bill. It was your responsibility. How could you?” you could say “I understand you are upset with me for forgetting to pay the bill and I apologize for forgetting. I will drop the payment off at the office first thing in the morning and I will set a reminders in my phone for the next bill. Maybe you could also remind me a few days before it’s due next time also. Is that satisfactory?”
- Bookend a negative thing with two positive things. For example, “Thank you for reminding me and I’m sorry I forgot, but I’d appreciate it if you use a kinder tone with me. I want you to be able to trust me so I’d appreciate it if you’d help me come up with a way to remember better.”
“There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” Proverbs 12:18
How do you know if your husband has crossed the line between being critical to verbal abuse?
- Calling you names and using put-downs like “stupid,” “idiot,” etc.
- Swearing at you or calling you inappropriate names
- Speaking to you in a tone of voice or with gestures that make you feel more like a child than a wife
- Continually making you feel like you are in the wrong
- Continually telling you that he’s telling you this “for your own good” or that he wouldn’t be so mad if you “just didn’t do X,Y,Z.”
- Making jokes at your expense
- Making you feel like you’re walking on egg-shells, unsure of when he’ll explode next
- Discounting your thoughts, opinions, and emotions as important
- Judging every decision you make
- Undermining your authority with your kids (if you have them) especially in front of other people
- Irrationally accusing you or blaming you for his problems
- Punishing you by making threats to withhold information, love, or sex, making threats to your safety or threatening to leave the marriage
Your turn! How do you diffuse a “critical” situation with your husband? What other methods do you use? How do you show your husband love and respect when confronting him becomes a necessity?
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