How to Handle the Spouse’s [or Anyone’s] Criticism

“She complains all the time. I cannot do anything right,” shouted George.

“He is never satisfied with the way I do dishes or clean the bathroom or even put on my makeup”, said Paula through sobs of frustration.

“My mother-in-law simply must attempt to instruct my wife and children when she visits our home. You would think it was her job to be the inspector general. She never leaves at the end of a visit without telling me what a sorry person she raised for a daughter and how stupid I was to marry her,” said Michael as he slammed his fist down on the desk. “What do we do with all this criticism?

“That is a good question,” I responded.

It seems to me that a person has one of three options other than cutting her out of their lives. That may be what they feel like doing, but I think they are in counseling because they have already considered that and realized it is not the right thing to do. So, I went on to suggest three options before them.

First of all, you could reject all of her criticism as irrational babblings of bitter old woman. From everything I have heard to today that would likely be an accurate assessment. Nonetheless, she is your mother, mother-in-law and the grandmother of your children. Rejecting her out of hand or her criticism for that matter, would not be appropriate. Remember the admonition of Proverbs 13:18: “If you ignore criticism, you will end in poverty and disgrace; if you accept correction, you will be honored”

Second, you could receive her evaluations as accurate. In your concurrence you could beat up yourself or your mate and in the process become like her—and likely end your marriage in divorce while in the process modeling very destructive patterns to your children. To accept her criticism out of hand is to fear her. Proverbs 29:25 indicates that “Fearing people is a dangerous trap, but trusting the Lord means safety.”

Thirdly, you could evaluate her criticism and learn from it. Such nonsense usually has some sense buried within it. It is hard for us to see it because we simply react in our own defense. We blow her off as being an eccentric old fool. We would do much better to cool off after she leaves and then sit down and ask, “What kernel of truth is wrapped up in her babbling?” What do I (we) need to learn and/or change? Consider the advice of Proverbs 19:20: “Listen to counsel and accept discipline, that you may be wise the rest of your days.”

I began this discussion with several scenarios which most people have not experienced. This observed behavior is outside their reality. I purposely started with these to make the three response options stand out.

There are many readers who, if they tone down the scenarios, can say, “Oh, yea, that is me (us) though never at that extreme—or perhaps your experience is at this extreme. So, whether extreme or occasional reality, the three options are there.

If you choose option one, you are likely to develop a bitter spirit. You will resent having to be in relationship with this person. If the critical spirit, for example, only occurs now and again you will likely feel hurt, decide to forgive (or at least bury it) and within a few hours or a day or so resume a normal relationship. But, there is no understanding on the part of either of you so it will happen again. You will forget to do whatever it was that your mate criticized. Your mate will respond in kind and so the cycle will occasionally occur.

If you choose option two you will begin to see yourself as devalued before your mate and you will consider yourself a failure or something worse. This attitude will contribute to depression, de-energized or even slothful. You will see yourself under judgment and will lose the desire for intimacy with your mate.

Option three is difficult, but necessary. It means we have to do several things. First, we have to accept the fact that there are things for which we must take responsibility and change. Second, it means we have to be vulnerable both to seek information from our mate and to understand how our behavior is impacting them, admit we are wrong leading to seeking forgiveness. The same process is true in friendships and extended family relationships.

The reality is that with some folks we will have to learn how to not react to them and accept the fact that even if we take responsibility for our stuff it may have little or no effect upon their critical spirit. It behooves us to nestle in Proverbs 12:18 in such cases: “There is one whose rash works are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing” to the situation. Another instruction in 15:1 runs like this: “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” In such cases we will need to learn how to practice the truth of Proverbs 16:24: “Gracious words are like a honeycomb, [they bring] sweetness to the soul and health to the body.”

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