Constructive Criticism in Marriage

It is inevitable in marriages that partners will, at some point, have complaints about each other that need to be expressed.  Certainly patience and mutual tolerance should be exercised to the greatest degree possible.  Not every imperfection or shortcoming needs to be vocalized.  However, there are legitimate circumstances in which the best course of action for the relationship is to convey a grievance regarding some negative behavior or other issue.  Unfortunately, many people approach such discussions in a way that leads to conflict - which exacerbates the problem.

No one really likes to be the object of criticism.  No one enjoys having their faults pointed out to them.  There is no guarantee that your spouse will respond amicably when approached with a complaint.  In fact, it's a natural reaction to respond with some degree of defensiveness.  This notwithstanding, if a criticism is presented in a caring, constructive manner the likelihood of a positive response and outcome are dramatically increased.

Here are some tips to consider regarding constructive criticism in your marriage...

(1)  Chose the right moment.  Avoid speaking out of frustration or anger.  Also avoid initiating the communication at a time or in a place that is not conducive to positive dialogue.  Sometimes an observation can be stated immediately after a negative behavior takes place.  But, it is often best to wait for a better time when you are in control of your emotions and when the setting provides the best opportunity of your comment being heard.

(2)  Don't accuse or attack.  Never phrase your criticism in a way that will intentionally invoke a defensive response.  Certainly expressing your criticism in the form of nagging or griping will not be well received.  Obviously name calling or similar tactics are out of the question if you hope for a positive outcome.  Ask yourself the question: "If the tables were turned, how would I want to be approached?"

(3)  Use "I" statements.  One excellent method of providing constructive criticism is to frame your comments as an "I" statement.  This is a statement that typically begins with "I" and takes responsibility for one's own feelings while simultaneously stating one's grievance in a constructive way.  Such statements are generally better received and met with a less defensive response.

Here are some quick examples.  Instead of saying, "You aren't making any sense", try something like, "I am having difficulty following what you are saying, can you please explain it again?"  Or instead of saying, "Stop treating me like the maid", try something like, "I feel stressed and taken for granted when you expect me to take care of all the household chores.  I'd like to discuss a better arrangement that would involve more help from you."

(4)  Be assertive, but humble.  There is nothing wrong with taking the initiative to address a problem in your marriage.  If you value your relationship, it is a necessary, albeit undesirable, step to avoiding future conflict and strife.  However, you must have the right intentions, motive, mindset, and attitude.  You must be able to control your emotions and, above all, approach the task with a sense of humility.  Otherwise, your attempts at criticism are doomed for failure and will make matters worse.

(5)  Maintain unconditional positive regard.  Having positive regard for your spouse means you love, respect and esteem him/her regardless of faults, mistakes, and so forth.  Marriages that are not built on a foundation of unconditional positive regard generally will not endure.  When this regard is expressed and demonstrated consistently in a relationship, even in the midst of conflict, both spouses can feel safe and secure in moving forward.

(6)  Don't expect immediate outcomes.  Insisting upon an admission of guilt or promise for change is setting yourself up for disappointment.  It is also setting your spouse up for future feelings of resentment.  It is rare that one's partner immediately accepts blame and responsibility to change when confronted with criticism - no matter how constructively it is expressed.  Instead, be content with knowing that you addressed the issue and brought your grievance to the attention of your spouse in a caring manner.  This awareness will often bring about a positive outcome eventually.  But it is a process that frequently takes some time and patience.
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