Please stop what you’re doing and get a pen and some paper. OK, now please jot down 2 or 3 criticisms of your mate. Just take a moment (by the way I’ve heard that a moment is 90 seconds) and list 2 or 3 of his or her imperfections. Alright, now that you’ve done that I ask you to take the same pen and paper and write down 2 or 3 of your mate’s positive qualities. Just 2 or 3 aspects of him or her which are noteworthy and commendable.
I’m curious. Which list was easier to compile? Well, I guess that depends on the overall quality of your marriage at the moment. If your marriage is good and you’re happy together, the second list was likely the easier, although the first list is always doable.
The big mistake you made in marriage was that you married a human being who, by definition, is going to have faults and who is going to do things that annoy you at times. Unless he or she married someone other than human I wouldn’t be too quick to pass judgment.
I heard somewhere that some folks find fault like there’s a reward for it. It’s so easy to find fault, and so many of us do. What’s ironic, however, is that at those times when we are most critical are usually the times we’re most upset with ourselves. You’ve got to live with yourself, so you can only take so much self-abuse and criticism. After a time you’re going to naturally look for another outlet. And all too often that other outlet is going to be your spouse. It may be common and normal, but it’s not right, and it’s certainly not conducive to a healthy marriage.
I have a video clip called repentance which makes a great point in a comical way. A husband tells his wife he wants to discuss the sermon they heard in church that morning. The wife agrees, but then he asks her to go first. The message of the sermon was repentance, and he suggested they should start their conversation with her telling him what she needed to repent of.
Needless to say, the conversation did not get off to a good start. The wife got justifiably upset that he would try to railroad her into admitting her faults and she took great offense. They then go on to point out each other’s need for repentance, and it gets ugly and loud.
Finally, the husband has a change of heart and admits that he really wanted to have the conversation so he could repent, but it was difficult for him to do so. He then goes on to apologize for starting the conversation by putting pressure on her, and he offers a sincere, heartfelt apology for the way things are going in their marriage. He acknowledges his anger and the destructive impact it has had on her and their children.
The reaction of the wife is heartwarming. Rather than continuing to jump his case, she softens and accepts his apology with humility. She then begins to list some of her faults and what she has done to steal the joy from their relationship. The couple is able to stop haranguing each other and instead begin to encourage and lift each other up – which by the way is what married folks are supposed to do.
We live in a rude world, and we’re used to people putting us down or disappointing us in some way. Home is supposed to be the place where each one is rooted for and supported and believed in. When you get criticized and put down at home the pain goes deep and the resentment even deeper.
So what am I saying? That you should never tell your mate when something he or she is doing is upsetting you? Not a chance. But I’m certain you’ve learned by now that there is a right way and a wrong way to express your displeasure. The former is likely to result in voluntary behavior adjustment. The latter in world war 7,235.
I’ll try to remember to write next week about the XYZ technique for voicing criticisms in a manner which will be well received and addressed. In the meantime let me challenge you to throw away your list of faults and add to your list of positive attributes. It wouldn’t hurt to spend a few moments each day looking over that list and remembering why you chose to marry him or her in the first place.
A few years ago the keynote speaker at the Four Corners Conference for Professional Development made a statement that “love in Greek means look for the good.” Well, I’m certainly not a Greek scholar, but I don’t think she’s correct. I love the thought though. To deepen and solidify the love in your home why not spend some time looking for the good and expressing appropriate gratitude to and for your spouse. My hunch is you’ll be well pleased with the results.
Ron Price is the co-founder and Executive Director of the Four Corners Coalition for Marriage & Family, a 501-C-3 organization dedicated to strengthening and equipping marriages and families in the Four Corners Area. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 505 327-7870.