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How Criticism Can Save Your Marriage  

save your marriage by expressing your anger

Marriage

How Criticism Can Save Your Marriage  

Contrary to popular opinion criticism can save your marriage – here’s how…

“A love without reproof is no love.”[1]

—Rabbi Yosi ben Chanina

Reproof is defined as rebuke or criticism. You may feel safer by seething silently when irked by a potential or actual marriage partner’s behavior. But sometimes speaking up, with kindness and respect, at a time when both of you are calm, is the best thing to do.

Keeping a grievance inside can result in distancing behaviors and grudge holding. Calmly bringing up a matter you find disconcerting, can clear the air and renew good feelings that cease when knots are tying up your insides.

Use Criticism Sparingly

It’s necessary to call someone with whom you’re in a relationship on his stuff that isn’t right. In fact, it’s the loving thing to do. This doesn’t give you license to point out every little thing that bothers you. Tolerance and acceptance of minor annoyances that are not deal breakers is necessary for any relationship to stay sound. To keep your perspective healthy, keep in mind the big picture of how well the two of you usually get along.

When you do rebuke, make sure to do so with your spouse’s benefit in mind, not as an excuse for projecting your own issues onto your mate. You want to show genuine concern for your partner’s wellbeing, by wanting to stop her or him from doing things that are self-destructive or harmful to yourself or others.

Example of How to Rebuke

Lynne liked Hunter very much. The first time he seemed to be flirting with the waitress who served their dinner, she thought she might be imagining it. Not wanting to make a big deal over what could be nothing, she held her tongue–until it happened two more times, leaving her feeling insecure.  He was thirty-five and ready to settle down, he’d told her, but he sure wasn’t acting that way.

Lynn told herself he couldn’t be couldn’t be serious about her if he enjoyed chatting up waitresses. She was tempted to stop seeing him, but wasn’t quite ready to do so because he had so many good qualities.

Finally, she told Hunter, “I like being with you very much, so I need to tell you about something I find disturbing. When you flirtatiously engage a waitress in conversation, I’m uncomfortable. I want to feel special to you, not like you’re attracted to someone else, whether or not I’m present.”

Hunter took her message to heart. He said, “It’s a bad habit. I’m sorry I made you uncomfortable. I won’t do it again.”

Had she withheld her reproof, Lynn probably would have built up a grudge and ended the relationship. Instead, she gave him a gift: the opportunity to correct his behavior and handle himself appropriately with her, or if their relationship ended, with someone else.

Lynn’s story illustrates this idea: “Reproof leads to peace; a peace where there has been no reproof is no peace.”[2] Had Lynn suppressed her discomfort and said nothing to him, thinking she was keeping things peaceful to them, at some point she would have gotten fed up with him and ended the relationship. By rebuking Hunter, Lynn actually restored peace to their relationship.

Maybe you’d feel annoyed by someone regularly interrupts you, chews with his mouth open, or forgets your birthday. Whatever is important enough to address in order to keep the two of you on an even keel is grist for the rebuke mill.

Accepting Rebuke Graciously

In a good relationship, reproof goes in both directions. What if he says, for example, that he dislikes being interrupted by you, that it makes him lose his train of thought? You may, as a knee-jerk reaction, feel offended by his criticism. But if he’s telling the truth, consider it a gift. Constructive feedback, offered in a loving way, helps us grow. As you become aware of when you’re about to interrupt, or to behave in some other off putting manner, you’ll become more likely to stop yourself. Consequently, you may well improve your relationships with friends, family members, and coworkers.

Sandpapering the Rough Edges

Partners in lasting fulfilling relationships focus mostly on each other’s positive qualities. But they also give reproof to each other when needed and accept it graciously. If that didn’t happen, they would probably remain stuck behaving in ways that create emotional distance. Rebuke is like sandpaper. Couples who use it wisely and sparingly smooth out each other’s “rough edges” over time. Consequently, they continue to feel emotionally close.

Offering reproof does not guarantee that the person will change. But how will you know if you don’t try? Regardless of the outcome, you’re likely to learn something through the process.

[1] Rabbi Reish Lakish, The Midrash (Bereshit Raba 54:3).

[Marcia Naomi Berger]

Marcia Naomi Berger, MSW, LCSW, author of Marriage Meetings for Lasting Love: 30 Minutes a Week to the Relationship You’ve Always Wanted (New World Library, 2014), has a private psychotherapy practice in San Rafael, California. She offers and workshops for couples and singles, continuing education classes for therapists at National Association for Social Workers (NASW) conferences and online. She has taught also at the UCSF School of Medicine, UC Berkeley Extension, and Alliant International University.
A former executive director of a family service agency, she has held senior level positions in child welfare, alcoholism treatment, and psychiatry. Marcia Naomi Berger lives in San Rafael, California with her husband of 26 years.

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