Criticism Pushes Married Couples Apart Emotionally
When married couples argue, it's often a failed attempt at reaching for one another. A primary reason lies in the use of criticism. Husbands and wives may unknowingly assume that pointing out where and how their spouse has failed will lead to a resolution of the core issues they're trying to address, or somehow bring them closer together. Unfortunately, this approach tends to have the opposite effect. Here's why:
1) Criticism Breeds Criticism
When we criticize our spouse, we immediately place them in a position to defend themselves. Though some husbands and wives may be more graceful than others, most individuals are quick to defend by returning criticism for criticism. This commonly results in a rapid escalation of the conversation to a point of conflict or shutting down.
2) Criticism Fails to Convey Core Needs and Emotions
Being critical of our spouse also fails to help them understand the depth of what we may be experiencing emotionally. For example, a husband who tells his wife, "You never come home on time," makes it hard for her to understand he is actually feeling alone and missing quality time with her. All she may actually perceive is that he's upset because she came home later than expected.
3) Criticism Makes It Difficult to Feel Loved
The danger of pointing out our spouse's flaws is we may leave them with the impression they aren't good enough for us. This is the antithesis of what it means to feel loved, and no one wants to experience the pain of feeling that who they are by definition is insufficient for their spouse. Criticism creates such dynamics, which can later facilitate breaches of trust which are very difficult to repair.
Thankfully, there is a far more effective means of working through core marital issues. It's called vulnerability.
Vulnerability Brings Married Couples Closer Together
Vulnerability is the opposite of criticism because it requires that we let our emotional guard down, and allow our spouse to hear the true nature of what we're feeling. It also creates a context for going deeper emotionally in our conversations, and drawing our spouse closer to us, while challenging both individuals to enter a place of humility and self-examination. Here's why:
1. Vulnerability keeps criticism in check
It's hard to accuse our spouse and highlight their faults, from a pride based / top-down posture, when we are acutely aware of our own failures and marital inconsistencies. Hence, this is why vulnerability, having been generated by humility and self-examination, is so essential to a healthy marriage. It keeps criticism in check and forces us to engage at a level of intimacy, with ourselves and our spouse, not otherwise possible.
2. Vulnerability allows us to be transparent
I'm always amazed, and encouraged, when I see married couples enter a state of vulnerability and share their hearts, or true feelings, with one another. They use a very different language in those instances, one based in transparency, and it quickly becomes apparent they are finally connecting in a manner that had been desired for so long. Spouses who used to say, "You never call me when you're away on business," are now able to disclose, "I miss being with you when you're away, and I feel alone when we don't get a chance to speak."
3. Vulnerability Breeds Vulnerability
Married couples who apply vulnerability in their conversations facilitate a dynamic of reciprocation, where the vulnerable approach of one member helps the other member to be vulnerable in kind.
Drawing From the Wisdom in Scripture
We've covered a lot of ground in this article, but I want to draw our attention to Scripture for a moment before we're done:
Proverbs 15:1 (ESV)
"A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger."
This brief verse provides a central truth that we need to keep in our hearts and apply in our marriages. The more we interact with our spouse from a standpoint of criticism, the more we create unhelpful points of conflict and emotional disconnection in our marriage. The more we interact with them from a standpoint of vulnerability, humility and tenderness the more we can create needed points of marital connection.
Eric Gomez, MS LMFT MHP
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist
Fulfilled Christian Counseling
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