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3 ways to overcome criticism in your marriage

Posted January 19

Last week, I made a plea that mothers everywhere be more real in what we post and blog about online.

So I’m going to take a bit of my own advice and be real about one of the biggest issues I struggle with as a wife: negativity.

I am a fault-finder.

I am actually a very positive person, but for some reason, I am quick to turn a critical eye on my husband. Particularly when it comes to raising our children, I often get frustrated when he doesn’t do things exactly like I think they should be done. Even worse, I take these “mistakes” as evidence that he doesn’t care about me enough to change.

It’s an ongoing problem, and one I work on constantly, often successfully fighting my inner critic for weeks only to collapse in on myself in a storm of unsolicited advice for the one person I love most.

When I falter, I often remind myself of this fact: Negativity kills marriages. Nowhere was this shown more profoundly than in several studies done by psychologist John Gottman, who dedicated much of his professional life to studying what makes marriages work. Gottman explained some of his research in a 2017 article in The Atlantic.

The most important indicator of a successful marriage, according to his work? Kindness.

Couples who were kind to each other almost always stayed together, and Gottman dubbed them “masters” of love. Couples who were quick to find fault in each other were often the first to split and were dubbed “the disasters.”

“There’s a habit of mind that the masters have, which is this: They are scanning social environment for things they can appreciate and say thank you for. They are building this culture of respect and appreciation very purposefully. Disasters are scanning the social environment for partners’ mistakes,” Gottman explained his interview with The Atlantic.

The result of such fault-finding behavior is contempt, which Gottman found was the No. 1 factor that tears couples apart. That seems like such a harsh word, but it does get to the core of what I’m doing when I pick at my husband. Rather than kindness, I am showing contempt for him and devaluing him as a person and as a spouse. In return, he finds himself doing less for me, caring less what I think and finding my faults more easily.

As I work on my own tendency toward criticism in my marriage, I have noticed a few things that help keep me on track.

1. Assume the best. Rather than always assuming your husband or wife is being purposely thoughtless, why not err on the side of being too generous with your appraisal? I need to give my husband the benefit of the doubt or try to help him instead of hound him.

Just like I want a partner who sees the best in me and assumes I’m inherently a good person, I can give him the same measure of generosity.

2. Release control. Often I criticize my husband’s way of doing things because it is different from the way I do it. I realized I needed to change one night when I was about to get upset after I couldn’t find the colander anywhere because, from my perspective, my husband puts dishes away like a crazy person. But as I was just about to say something to him, I stopped. My husband does the dishes for me. How lucky am I? Who cares if it’s not done my way? Rather than feel frustrated, I felt grateful for a husband who helps me.

3. Find my own happy. This is a big one for me, as I’ve found the times where I am the worst at nitpicking my husband are when I am unhappy with myself. My husband is not responsible for making me happy. Instead, I need to make time for the things that help me stay happy. Right now, that’s time to write, exercise and sleep. As I make those things a priority, I find I’m happier, and I have a much easier time letting that positivity flow into my marriage.

I’m sure there are lots of women out there who may read this and think I am a terrible wife. That may be true. Perhaps there are women who are just naturally kind, loving and positive with their husbands all the time and they don’t need to rein in their critical side.

But I do. I have to work on it every day. I hope that one day I don’t have to try so hard to choose kindness over criticism.

But for now, this is real. This is me. I’m working on it because I’m not perfect, because I love my husband and because more than anything, I want a marriage where we both can feel safe, loved and accepted — faults and all.

Erin Stewart is a regular blogger for Deseret News. From stretch marks to the latest news for moms, she discusses it all while her daughters dive-bomb off the couch behind her and her newborn son wins hearts with his dimples.

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