Be Courageous In The Face of Criticism

Stewart tells us that he takes a beating every day. “I come home physically and mentally tired from working twelve hours for my family and she’s right on me the very minute I come in the house.”

Stewart and Brianna had been married less than a year when he called for a Marriage Intensive. “I can’t take it anymore. I can never do anything right”.

Criticism In Marriage

Stewart and Brianna are like most couples. There always seems to be one spouse with a sharper tongue who is not afraid to use it to express how they feel or what they want. Criticism is one of the four Marriage Killers that, left untended, will destroy a marriage relationship.

The truth is that all married couples experience criticism. In fact, all spouses at some time in their marriage will employ criticism. All spouses at some point in their marriage will feel the attack of criticism from their spouse.

‘…you shouldn’t exhaust yourself in bickering; instead, be gentle… ready and able to teach, tolerant without resentment,’ 2 Timothy 2:24b,d (VOICE)

Courage When Under Attack

Research is clear. Couples who make a life together forever have found a way to handle criticism. When they realize that they are being critical, they take a step back and shift to using the Complaint Formula. When they are criticized, they find a way to repair the hurt from the interaction as quickly as possible.

There are two major things you need to do to make it through a spouse’s criticism: courageously listen and respond only to the request.

Courageous Listening

One of the best skills you will ever develop to make your marriage last a lifetime is courageous listening.

Courageous listening occurs when you seek first to understand your spouse. The reason it is courageous is because it is the opposite of what you feel like doing.

When your spouse criticizes you, in fact, when you feel that a criticism is on its way, your defense system is alerted and deployed. For most of us, that means that we are headed toward some form of moving away or moving against our spouse.

  • We move away by shutting down, withdrawing, getting busy with something else, focusing on a device (phone, TV, computer, etc.) or employing the silent treatment.
  • We move against by becoming defensive, arguing over every word in their criticism, counter-accusing them of something (usually unrelated) or calling them names.

Courageous listening is about noticing that the defense system is deploying within ourselves and then, instead of moving away or against, moving toward them.

We listen with courage when we take a chance to move toward them by asking curious and supportive questions to help us understand what is going on for our spouse. Courageous listening happens when we move toward them with a show of affection and concern for how important this issue, whatever it is, is so important to our spouse at that specific moment.

You are a courageous spouse when you respond to your critical spouse by choosing to do what creates the marriage you want instead of doing what you feel like doing. Usually what you feel like doing is something that will absolutely not help you build the marriage you want but instead will get in the way of your long term relationship goals.

Respond Only To The Request

Within every criticism, there a request from our spouse. The request is usually to do something, or more of something, or stop doing something, or do less of whatever that is.

The challenge is to listen well enough to discover the request that they want. To do this, you must not pay attention to the emotion behind their criticism. In your spouse’s emotional state, they will usually use words that are not absolutely true of you. They may speak about the motives of your heart or speak in hyperbolic exaggerations like, “you never”, “you always”, “no one else in the world”, “everyone knows that”, etc.

Let those go. Let what you know is untrue stay off the table in that moment. Let your spouse be wrong in their emotional moment.  Do not respond to where they have it wrong!

Instead hear their request within the criticism. What is it that they are asking you, underneath their emotional criticism, to do or not do? What reasonable request is in there behind all of their hurtful words?

Instead of responding to what their saying is not true, respond to what they are requesting from you. Consider if you are willing to do, or stop doing, that thing that is bothering them. Check in with yourself to see if you can make a commitment that is focused on a successful future together.

You are a courageous spouse you listen for the reasonable request underneath your spouse’s emotional criticism and let them know what you are willing to do to create the marriage you want in your heart of hearts. What are you willing to do about this issue that seems so very important to your spouse?

What do you have to say?

We love to hear from readers.  What do you usually do when your spouse is critical?  What has worked in the past for you?  What do you think about trying a new approach to your critical spouse? What other suggestions you would add to offerings in this article? Do you know someone you need to forward this article to?

This article was written by Roy and Devra Wooten, authors of “The Secret to a Lifetime Love”. Learn more at © Roy and Devra Wooten 2016. All Rights Reserved. You may replicate this article as long as it is provided free to recipients and includes appropriate attribution. Written permission for other use may be obtained at

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