Being critical of your spouse can actually lead you onto a short path to divorce. The Gottman Relationship Institute has done years of research on ways to make relationships healthier and they report that criticism is one of the biggest problems in relationships. It appears that husbands who feel criticized by their wives are especially impacted by criticism and it can greatly decrease their marital satisfaction.
There’s lots of reasons people try to use to justify their criticism. However, there’s really no excuse. Your spouse doesn’t make you respond with criticism. Instead, you’re in charge of your own behaviors. If you’re guilty of being critical of your spouse, it’s important to learn some new habits before you damage your relationship beyond repair.
Difference Between Honesty and Criticism
Sometimes people mask their criticism by claiming they are just being “honest.” When people say things such as, “I speak my mind. If he’s lazy, I’m going to tell him he’s lazy.” Certainly there’s a difference between honestly expressing your feelings and being overly critical and even cruel.
There’s certainly an art to learning how to express yourself in a tactful way. Often, you can give the same message but by just changing a few words, it won’t come across as nearly as harsh.
Instead of saying, “You’re lazy,” replace it with something like, “I’ve been feeling really tired lately trying to get things done. What can we do to get the rest of these things done?” Use “I” statements and invite your spouse to work with you rather than placing blame.
Being Kind Versus Keeping Secrets
Sometimes people use criticism because they claim they don’t want any secrets in the marriage. However, there’s a difference between being cruel and politely keeping something to yourself. Having an honest marriage doesn’t mean you have to share every thought you’ve ever had.
For example, if you find your co-worker attractive there’s no need to come home and say, “Honey, my new co-worker looks like you did ten years ago.” Think twice about what impact your words are likely to have.
If your thoughts are insulting, hurtful, and downright mean at times, keep them private. There may be some that you can censor and change them to express them in a way that is more tactful.
Anger Leads to Angry Thoughts
Some people aren’t critical until they get angry. Then, the criticisms start flowing. The brain stores unhappy memories in a certain area that gets activated when you feel angry. This causes you to remember all those other things your spouse has done that has made you mad.
Learn to recognize when you are starting to get angry. Anger often causes physical symptoms such as a racing heart, feeling flushed or a red face. These can all be cues that you should stop talking. At this point, it’s unlikely that any conversation is going to be positive or productive.
Establish a time-out system with your spouse. Agree that when one of you needs to calm down you can walk away for a few minutes (and the other person agrees not to follow). Re-visit the conversation when you are calmer and are able to be more logical and less critical.
Think Before You Speak
Criticism becomes a habit for many people. It takes a lot of effort to train yourself to think before you speak if you’ve fallen into this habit. However, it’s important for the sake of your marriage.
So before you speak, ask yourself, “Is this really important?” For example, if you are used to criticizing your spouse for leaving his shoes in the middle floor, ask yourself, “What’s more important, our marriage or the shoes in the middle of the floor?”
Sometimes it can be helpful to just take a deep breath and practice some acceptance. If your spouse isn’t as detailed oriented when it comes to cooking or cleaning remember that there is more than one right way to do things.
Practice the Compliments
The Gottman Relationship Institute recommends that couples give one another at least five times as many compliments as criticisms. So, each day make sure you are giving plenty of compliments and positive affirmations. Use the criticisms sparingly.
If you aren’t in the habit of giving a lot of positive affirmations, it can take some extra effort at first to hand them out. However, take time to notice the small things and the things your spouse does on a daily basis. Thank your spouse for working so hard each day. Point out when your spouse looks nice. Thank your spouse for a great meal. Once you get used to offering these sorts of praises, they begin to flow much more naturally.