Family Crisis – Try Outserving Your Spouse Instead of Criticism

By Dugan P. Kelley

As Dale Carnegie famously quipped in his book How to win friends and influence people, “Nobody likes to be criticized.”  He posited that “Any fool can criticize, complain, and condemn—and most fools do. But it takes character and self-control to be understanding and forgiving.”  Wow!  There are literally years of our marriages that could have been shaped differently if we had used different approach to marital growth.

We Often Value Being “Right” In Marriage Over Everything:

Unfortunately, most of us that are married have seventh degree black belts in criticizing our spouses.   Those all so helpful “suggestions” about how we might change our spouses or their behavior almost always backfires.  We are completely confident that our spouses need to hear about ways in which they should change to help us.  The movie Jerry Maguire {great movie} made famous the quote “you complete me.”  This is the type of pressure that has seeped into our marriages and when our spouses don’t complete us, we turn to the handy tool of criticism to nudge our spouses along.

However, instead of creating an atmosphere of change, transparency, or vulnerability with our spouses, our criticism can often create a toxic environment that results in negative growth in our marriages. Dale Carnegie isn’t alone.  Scripture is replete with admonishments against complaining, being critical, or negative toward our spouses.  Matthew 7:1-2 says “Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you.”  Similarly, James 2:1 says “For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.”  Whoa! I definitely don’t want to receive the full measure of the judgment I have dished out to my wife over the years.  These truths can be so difficult to follow or even check ourselves we are in the middle of marital discord and all we can see is the color red.

Our Family Courts are littered with volumes of cases where the toxicity that has been sown into the marriage from criticism for years results in marital implosion leading to putting decisions about our futures, our kids futures, and our property in the hands of Judges.  Instead of looking to pop culture or our spouses to “complete us,” we should be looking to avoid having a critical spirit and move toward acts of service.

When Criticisms Come, How Should We Deal With Them:

Spoiler alert – we will fail to be perfect in our marriages.  Philippians 2:14 says “Do all things without grumbling or disputing.”  This feels almost impossible.  Recognize that we will fail and it could be in any phase of marriage.  We will still struggle with our critical tongues vs. performing acts of service.  However, hen we are on the receiving end of criticism, we can practice the following:

  • Accept it – This doesn’t mean you have to agree with it. Allow your spouse to be heard.  Honestly listen to the criticism and try not to be defensive.  Consider, pray, and evaluate the criticism.  It may actually be correct;
  • Extend grace and mercy – Remember, you are going to be delivering criticism and likely on the receiving side. When receiving criticism (even if unfair and untrue), extend grace to your spouse even in the middle of it;
  • Forgive (honestly) – Forgiving your spouse means exactly that. Don’t keep a record of prior wrongs that you wheel out during each argument in order to highlight each time you feel wronged.  Honestly forgive and move-on.  Your marriage will be stronger as a result.

Try Outserving Your Spouse Instead:

Anyone that is married is faced with that dilemma – use your black belt skills in criticizing your spouse OR try something different.  What do you have to lose?  I suggest you adopt outserving your spouse as a substitute for criticism.  Here are few ideas to get you started outserving your spouse:

  • Outserving With Your Words: Give Compliments Routinely. Yes, we all compliment our spouses for big things.  How about complimenting your spouse on the little things in your marriage;
  • Outserving With Your Actions: Just like above, think of the little things that your spouse normally does, that you could do around the house, with the kids, errands… ?Consistency and routine in outserving your spouse in the little things will make a difference in the quality of your marriage;
  • Outserving Your Spousee With Focus And Attention: Turn the TV off and avoid distractions.  There is tremendous power in focused attention, active listening, and in your spouse knowing that you appreciate them and are concerned with what they are concerned with; and
  • Outserve Your Spouse With Love: I Peter 1:8 says this best, “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.”  You cannot say I love you too much.

There are no perfect people or perfect marriages.  Marriage is work, but it can be the most rewarding relationship you have with a person.  If you are struggling and/or are in the midst of marital crisis, you don’t have to struggle alone.  Kelley Clarke PC will care for you.  Please don’t hesitate to call us.