It is not easy to receive criticism even when it is constructive, especially when it comes from your spouse, the one you want nothing less than absolute acceptance and approval from. And it is not easy to give constructive criticism to your spouse without hurting your spouse’s feelings and coming across as disapproving and rejecting. But knowing how to give and receive constructive criticism is desperately needed for a marriage to grow in oneness as God has intended.
The struggle with feeling critical toward one another is very real in marriage, I don’t think anyone is immune from it. So the challenge we all face is knowing how to guard against allowing criticism to be used in a negative way that is hurtful and harmful to our marriage. While at the same time allowing constructive criticism to be used in a way that promotes growth and encouragement.
Janet and I have written on the subject of accepting your spouse for who they are; Learning To Accept Your Spouse and Is Your Spouse Good Enough? So it may be surprising to hear me talking about using constructive criticism now. But this is not meant to contradict what we have already said. It is actually meant to encourage the use of constructive criticism in a way that supports and encourages in a way that is actually looking out for one another.
The example that comes to mind right off for me is the times when I’m dealing with some allergies and blowing my nose and afterwards I have the remains of tissue stuck to my face. Janet will gently point out to me what she sees and then I go to a mirror to take care of it. Now that may seem trivial, but I’m very thankful my wife will let me know about something like that before I embarrass myself in front of others.
Another example that wasn’t so trivial was back when our marriage was in bad shape. My anger and hostility was so unbearable in our home that it led to Janet and I arguing and yelling at each other all the time. She was not about to be run over by me so when she argued back I basically rejected anything she had to say. Therefore I was never looking at myself in the mirror. To me it was all about what was wrong with her.
Until one day when Janet had taken all she could take and after hearing from our oldest son that he couldn’t take it any more they both set me down for a heart to heart conversation. It was the most humbling and eye-opening conversation I had ever had as I listen to my wife and teenage son tell me that they could no longer live with me being the way I was and they both were intending to move out.
It is a sad thing knowing that it took a third-party to point out to me what I should have been willing to hear from my wife all along. But we are finding now that is not so unusual. When Janet and I are meeting with couples who need our help, there are times when their arguments get brought out right in front of us. Both husband and wife pointing their fingers at each other while at the same time refusing to accept responsibility for what they have been doing wrong.
Of course Janet and I will step in and defuse the arguments, but it is without fail that as we defuse the arguments we always end up agreeing with some part and validating some of what each other has been trying to say. Then I guess because we are a third-party with no vested interest, and I’m sure because we are not screaming to try to make our point, we will start to see humility from both husband and wife. And then we help them move forward by owning the responsibility for what their doing wrong and by confessing their faults and asking for forgiveness from each other.
It is after those times of seeing couples handle their criticism toward each other the wrong way that we become more and more aware of the need to handle constructive criticism the right way.
Question: How well do you handle constructive criticism?
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