How to Stop Criticism

Four Way to Get Control of Your Tongue


Do you struggle with wanting to criticize your spouse? Almost all of us have either experienced criticism in our marriage, or observed it in our family of origin.

Criticism is when we blame, shame, and attack the character and nature of another person. Criticism often begins with phrases like: “You never,” “You always,” and “You are….”

Accentuate the Positive

Accentuate the Positive

How would you describe what it is like to be around a consistently negative person? The kind of person who longs for rain on a sunny day and for whom the glass is always half empty. Wouldn’t you agree that an individual like that can be a difficult person to be around?

In our work with couples we have seen marriages crash and burn because one or both persons have chosen to focus their negative attitude toward their spouse. Even after they are confronted with the issue, they continue their negative behavior. They refuse to change their attitude and accentuate the positive in their marriage.

When Your Spouse Annoys You

Annoy 2

What do you do when your spouse annoys you? Do you just put up with it? Do you nag them about it? Has something become a source of irritation and put distance between the two of you?

Sometimes, it doesn’t take much for something to get under our skin, does it? Like the person driving in front of us whose turn signal has been on for miles? Or the individual who chooses the “15 items or less”  line with more than 30 items in their cart?  Maybe it’s the co-worker who is consistently late for meetings. But those are all situations that we can leave behind us when we go home.

The challenge comes when there are mannerisms or behaviors of our spouse that we allow to get under our skin. It may not seem like a big deal, but experts agree that these annoyances are things that need to be addressed or they will fester and become major issues in our marriage.

God Discussions in Marriage

God Discussions at Dinner

“Where have you seen God at work lately?”  That is the opening question Brad asks men every week at the Thursday morning Bible study he leads.  Initially, Brad was met with blank stares and a couple of half hearted responses. (It’s tough to get guys to talk at 6:15 in the morning!) But over the years the men have learned to show up ready to talk about different experiences they have had with God.

In the busyness of life it can be so easy for couples to keep conversations on the surface. We discuss our schedules, kids’ activities and any chores that need to be done around the house. We may talk briefly about anything interesting happening at work. But after that, the nights and the weekends consume our time and we rarely take our conversations deeper.

How To Connect At A Deeper Level

Empathy in Marriage

“We just don’t seem to connect. We’re nice to each other. We talk about the day, the kids, our work. We do projects around the house, go out with friends and attend church. But when it comes to really getting each other—I don’t think we connect.”

Have you ever felt like this in your marriage? Where life is good, and yet you are yearning for deeper understanding with your spouse? It’s not uncommon for us to have conversations like this with one or both spouses in a marriage. One of the keys to connection is wrapped up in the simple and profound learning of empathy and putting it into practice.

Empathy doesn’t just feel badly or sorry for what your spouse is experiencing. Empathy goes deeper and tries to identify with them; it says, “You’re not alone. We’re in this together.” (see video below)

Love Tells The Truth

Photo credit: kelley_leigh / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA
Photo credit: kelley_leigh / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

Love tells the truth and the truth must be told in love. Do you believe that? Is it true in your marriage?

Matt and Sara have a marriage with minimal conflict. Their evenings are filled with some casual conversation about the day, the children, household decisions and friends. But to keep the peace they avoid telling each other what is happening inside their hearts. Neither wants to admit that they are lonely in their marriage. And so they continue to pretend and wish for a different life. And the separation widens…

John is quiet and reflective while Mary is strong and outgoing. When John opens up about something that he is feeling or thinking, it is common for Mary to power-up and shut him down. Over time, John chose to become more secretive with everything from money to activities to his thoughts. And the separation widens…

The irony in trying to keep the peace in marriage by not telling the truth is that you actually LOSE the relationship you are trying to preserve! It is only in telling the truth with love to your spouse that you are drawn together and are connected intimately.

Choosing The Right Word

Couple talking on couch


Wouldn’t you agree that most arguments happen over the dumbest things? Often there’s a misunderstanding or a careless comment that is made and later regretted—but only after the damage is done.

How can we minimize the careless comments in our marriage? How can we change-up our pattern and begin to say the right word at the right time?

The wisest man who ever lived, King Solomon, wrote: “A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver.” (Proverbs 25:11) In the original language, the idea is a word given at just the right time is beautiful and valuable. Wouldn’t you agree that holds true in marriage as well?

Often the right word comes at a time when we are struggling, sad, angry or needing to be lifted up. When the right thing is said there is connection, care, compassion, and encouragement. We feel understood and our spouse’s words are actually a blessing to us.

Here are four things to keep in mind this week so that your words are “aptly spoken” and become a treasure to your spouse:

1. Listen and ask

We have to hear our spouse’s heart to have the right word. What are the things that are burdening them? What do they talk about? Ask follow-up questions that help bring understanding. Sometimes a simple, “Tell me more…” or “Help me understand…” opens the door for them to go deeper in their explanation. Keep listening.

 2. Watch and ponder

Life can get busy and we can easily become self-focused on our personal to-do’s and projects. Pull back and watch your spouse. What is consuming their time and energy? Work that they brought home? Tasks or deadlines that need to be completed? Projects at home? Activities or stress with the children?

Enter their world. You know your spouse…what is life like for them right now? Perhaps you will observe them serving the household doing menial tasks no one else will do (including you!), or working hard to succeed at their job, or pouring themselves into your children.

Imagine you are in their skin. What would you like to hear?

3. Pause and pray

Before you speak the “apt word,” take a moment to breathe a prayer to God. Ask Him what your spouse needs to hear from you. It may be a word of encouragement or affirmation. Perhaps they need appreciation or even a word of advice. Maybe all they need is a hug and to hear, “I love you.”

4. Speak and repeat

When you are confident you know what to say, be sure you have eye contact and good timing, go ahead and say the right word! Once you’ve spoken the right word, go back and repeat the first step.

Fill your relationship with the right words and you will bless your spouse as you build your marriage!

Who’s to Blame?

Blame in Marriage

“It’s not MY fault—YOU…” and so the argument revs up as blame is passed. It’s nothing new in marriage. In fact, blame goes all the way back to the Garden of Eden. Remember the story? The serpent (Satan) tempted Eve with the only fruit she wasn’t allowed by God to eat. Eve took it, ate a bite, and handed it to Adam who was right there with her, and he ate it as well.

When God showed up and asked what had happened Adam launched into a double-blame: “The WOMAN whom YOU put here with me….” And Eve just passed it along, “THE SERPENT….”

Why did they pass the buck and try to stick the blame somewhere else? For the same reasons each of us still does it: to protect ourselves from responsibility by projecting onto OTHERS what we need to own.

Although the consequences may have been the same, the story would have sounded much differently if Adam had simply manned up and said to God, “I failed to protect her from doing what I knew was wrong. Even further, I joined in and did what you told me not to do.” And if Eve had said, “I knew it was wrong, but I gave in to temptation. I’m so sorry.”

A phrase you’ve read in other posts by us fits well here: Your response is your responsibility. And it’s true for your spouse as well: Their response is their responsibility.

Blamers will often use excuses like:

“I’m justified”

The thought here is that they have somehow been treated poorly or done wrong by their spouse. The underlying premise is that “Because you did ________, I can now do/say/respond ___________.” There’s a degree of victim mentality and retaliation buried in self-justification.

“You’re worse”

This is simply self-righteous deflection. “I may be a little bit bad, but YOU are A LOT bad because YOU….” The blamer who leverages this excuse is adept at shaming their spouse.

If you recognize this in yourself, remember: Satan is the one who brings shame. He doesn’t need your help.

“You provoked me”

Tragically, this has been used to explain away physical abuse, verbal abuse, control, manipulation and retaliation. It is an effort to absolve one’s self of their personal ownership of their own behavior. Relationships and conflict can be heated and complex, but that doesn’t excuse sinful and disrespectful behavior toward one’s spouse.

If you live with a blamer, here are three things counselors recommend:

1) Be tough but tender

Put up boundaries around disrespectful behavior. Remove yourself from the situation and lovingly tell your spouse you are willing to discuss the matter at hand when they can speak to you respectfully. Be careful not to engage in defensiveness or amping up the emotional tenor of the conversation. Stay loving, but strong in how you deserve to be addressed.

2) Be open to your part

You may fear that you’re giving the blamer ground by owning anything they present. But if there is something for which you should take responsibility (remember: your response is your…?) then do so. But don’t own more than you should with integrity.

3) Use “I” statements

In any conflict, “you” statements project blame and create defensiveness. But when you use statements like, “I feel frustrated when…” or “I feel angry when…” you are owning your feelings and your responsibility for them.

Be mindful of your personal responsibility, own it, and you and your spouse will come together with greater unity as you build your marriage.