7 Habits of Highly Defective Marriages: Part 4 Criticism


Three weeks ago, we started a new series of seven blogs designed to recognize unhealthy habits. If you missed the last three weeks check out our first THREE Highly Defective Habits:

Habit #1: Spiritual Continuity.

Habit #2: The Single Life

Habit #3: The Fun-less Couple

Here we go…#4 on the list of my 7 Habits of Highly Defective Marriages:

Defective Marriage

Habit #4: Criticism Floods

crit·i·cal/ kritikəl
adjective: expressing adverse or disapproving comments or judgments
Synonyms: disapproving, scathing, fault-finding, judgmental, negative

Luke 6:37:38 “Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults—unless, of course, you want the same treatment. Don’t condemn those who are down; that hardness can boomerang. Be easy on people; you’ll find life a lot easier. Give away your life; you’ll find life given back, but not merely given back—given back with bonus and blessing. Giving, not getting, is the way. Generosity begets generosity.” 

Of all the ways there are to die (not that I’m looking for one), drowning has got to be ranked up there as one of the most miserable ways to go.  Yet I find there are so many spouses drowning their spouse by flooding them with criticism.
You and your husband/wife have the ability to overwhelm each other with such critical (disapproving, scathing, fault-finding, judgmental, negative) words that it can cause an emotional shut-down.  That emotional collapse can result in a detachment within your relationship. When one of you brings on a sudden barrage of criticism, you leave your spouse feeling shell-shocked.  The results: disengagement and often, over time, leads to contempt.
Defective marriages have at least one individual that constantly speaks with a critical tongue. Criticism, if not handled is a form of emotional violence.  It’s used as an attack against the character of the other. The tongue is an open faucet that will beat down your spouse leave your partner broken down, gasping for emotional and mental “air.” In most cases, they’re going to be reaching out to something or someone for a fresh breath to breathe into them.  What is sad is the breath they need should be coming from their spouse.
The Gottman Institutes says criticism is “a wish disguised…a negative expression of real need.” What needs to be done is to shut off the valve of criticism and YOU take responsibility for change.  Instead of unloading all blame, you begin to own the wish/need and help shoulder the responsibilities at hand. Critical spirits fractures the oneness between you and your spouse.  Introspective and humble hearts heal and fortify your marriage.
According to Luke 6, stop “picking on” your spouse with criticism.  Shut off the valve.  Give your marriage some air and let the introspection and humility breath life back into your marriage.  If you do, watch life come back into the eyes of your husband/wife.
Stop being defective.  Stop being so critical.
Thanks for letting me ramble…
(for more on criticism, check out my post from last year called “The Bold and the Beautiful“)

“The Bold and the Beautiful: Dealing with Criticism in Marriage”

Dave and Anne diagonal

I’ll say two things from the “get-go” of this weeks marriage blog: 

1. Criticism can be healthy. 
2. Critical people are cancerous.

A relationship that lacks communication, or the wrong kind of communication, is an absolute way for a husband and wife to end up as roommates and not spouses.  Communication is one of the most important ingredients in a marriage.  I call it the “oil of the marriage engine.  Can you imagine going out to lunch with a good friend but saying very little to one another?  Better yet, imagine those same two friends doing nothing but criticizing the other—it’s hard to imagine, isn’t it?    Sadly, some marriages are filled with this type of dysfunction; and it’s tolerated and it’s toxic.

I grew up having a hard time with criticism.  I knew I hated it but didn’t realize till later in life some of the reasonings why. One of the biggest contributors is that I am a “words of affirmation” guy.  I thrived on encouragement coming from my parents, friends, and authority figures.  But just as much as I fed off of edification, criticism broke me down.  I wasn’t understanding the necessity or the reasoning behind it. 

It seemed that friends of mine could take criticism well and even grow off of it yet, for me, it cut me to the bone.  For a time, being one of the smallest boys on a large football team had me, on one hand, living with a chip on my shoulder and trying to prove myself and my place on the team.  But on the other hand, while watching older and more gifted players getting yelled at, caused me to be paralyzed by fear.  If they weren’t good enough, what does that mean about me.  It wasn’t till the breaking point of my senior season, where I discovered that I had been living in a sinking abyss of fear. After a devastating loss, one of our team captains called me out in a team meeting. “If we were as dedicated and practiced as hard as Barringer, we’d be undefeated.” I’d have to admit, it might have been the first time I had heard ANY encouragement from a teammate.  It shocked me and it changed me.  I looked at my teammates, captains, and coaches different. From that point, I not only walked with confidence, but when criticism came my way from the captains or even the coaches, I no longer felt broken down. What made the difference? Two things: First, I understood I was a valuable member of the team.  Feelings of insignificance took its toll on me and my play on the field. Second, I caught the heart of teamwork, care, and cooperation behind the team I played with.  If I was valuable, then the criticism was actually encouragement.  I’ll say it this way:

Healthy criticism is never separate from encouragement because they are intertwined. They co-exist.  To have one without the other only invites death. 


Criticism is sorely misunderstood and misused, especially in marriage. 

There’s such a huge difference between the two statements we started with.  But because of the abuse of criticism, the lines are blurred.  You have some marriages that desperately need the help that constructive wisdom can help.  Without it, spouses keep their marriages on the spinning carousel of confusion and frustration.  Yet on the other side, a critical tongue has been used so many times to tear down spouses.  I’ll give it to you in the form of a TRUTH

The best way to let your spouse know how deficient they are is to critique everything they do.

It is inevitable in marriages that spouses will, at some point, have things about each other that need to be expressed.  Certainly patience, kindness, and humility should be exercised to the greatest degree possible.  NOTE: Not every on of your spouse’s imperfections or shortcomings needs to be vocalized.  However, there are legit moments in which the best course of action for the relationship is to convey a grievance regarding some  behavior or issues.  Unfortunately, many people approach such discussions in a way that leads to conflict – which exacerbates the problem.

But what I discovered as a member of the Stevenson Titans, is very applicable today.  People struggle with criticism in their marriage because: 

1. They don’t feel a part of the marriage “team”.  Decisions are always one-sided.  Feelings are never taken into account.  One person enjoys dominating life while the other feels insignificant.  Team means you work together.  The two become one and act as one. Does your spouse feel like you are a team?  Don’t answer for them.  Ask him/her.

2. They have never caught the heart of unity, care, and cooperation behind the marriage/team. With communication breakdown, you really don’t know where your spouse’s criticism is coming from.  If your spouse never hears encouragement/edification from you, your criticism does nothing but break them down with nothing to build upon.  I learn that I can’t just work out a muscle.  I need to eat protein.  Working out rips apart the muscle and the protein builds it up to be stronger. 

No one really likes to be the object of criticism.  No one enjoys having their faults pointed out to them.  There is no guarantee that your spouse will respond favorably when approached with a complaint.  In fact, it’s a natural reaction to respond with some degree of defensiveness.  This notwithstanding, if a criticism is presented in a caring, constructive manner, it’s very likely the potential of a positive response and outcome are increased.

Here are some ideas to help regarding constructive criticism in your marriage…

(1)  Timing is everything.  Control your tongue (James 1:26). You have to wait for the right moment. Completely avoid speaking out of frustration or anger.   It may feel right to you because you get to fly off at the handle, but in the end it will do more damage.  Also avoid initiating the communication at a time or in a location that is not conducive to the conversation (i.e. in front of kids, in-laws, parents, etc).  Sometimes a comment is warranted in a moment off need but wisdom needs to be exercised.  It’s often best to wait for a better time when you are in control of your temper, words, and tones and when the setting provides the best opportunity of your comment being heard.

(2)  Refrain from accusations or attack.  Remember to strive for peace (Hebrews 12:14). Be cautious to never phrase your criticism in a way that will intentionally invoke a defensive response.   Expressing your criticism in the form of nagging or griping will NOT be well received.  Name calling or similar tactics are obviously out of the question if you have any hope for a good outcome.  My pastor/mentor always taught me:  “If the tables were turned, how would I want to be approached?”

(3)  Be assertive, but humble.  Clothe yourself in humility (Colossians 3:12). There is absolutely nothing wrong with taking the initiative to address a situation in your marriage.  If you value your marriage, it is a necessity.  It may feel like an undesirable necessity, but it will help avoid future conflict and strife.  Deep down, you must have the right intentions, motive, mindset, and attitude.  You must get control over your emotions and, above all, approach the task with a sense of humility.  Otherwise, your attempts at criticism are doomed for failure and will make matters worse.

(4)  Stand in love.  Love is the only way to walk (Ephesians 5:2). This means you love, respect and esteem your spouse regardless of faults, mistakes, and so forth.  Marriages that are not built on a foundation of the unconditional love of God working through our lives generally will not endure.  This has to be expressed and demonstrated consistently in a relationship, even in the midst of conflict, both spouses can feel safe and secure in moving forward.

Conflict is not fun.  But it’s a part of having two imperfect individuals living in oneness.  Keep working as a team and never lose the heart of Christ within your marriage. 

Thanks for letting me ramble…

2 Minute Devo: “Be careful” Matthew 7:2-3

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August is our journey through the 2 minute series called “Watch Your Mouth”.  I want to invite you to join me as we. It’s as simple as viewing  the vlog and reading the passage for the day.  Today’s passage is Matthew 7:2-3:

Matthew 7:2-3

For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?

Undermining Your Marriage

Dave and Anne diagonal

For this week’s marriage blog, I began to ponder this thing of undermining marriage.  There are moments when you and I unknowingly act out situations that, if not corrected, will end up undermining the growth, strength, and future of your marriage.  Where I struggle, is when I talk with couples who are acting out in a specific manner and KNOW what they are doing.  Sometimes it’s out of retribution or frustration. Some actions can be explained out of the nurturing they received as they grew up observing their own families who raised them. But their actions are only keeping the deadly carousel of death spinning faster and faster to the point where someone wants off and out of the relationship.

Habakkuk 2:9-11 says in The Message “Who do you think you are— recklessly grabbing and looting, Living it up, acting like king of the mountain, acting above it all, above trials and troubles? You’ve engineered the ruin of your own house. In ruining others you’ve ruined yourself. You’ve undermined your foundations, rotted out your own soul. The bricks of your house will speak up and accuse you.

The context, obviously, isn’t marriage. But the principle is very powerful. By the actions of the people, they are undermining their foundations (what their lives are built upon). Their lives are “rotting out” what they are assuming is so secure.

I reading this scripture, I began to brainstorm some random thoughts that will undermine (rot out) your marriage.  Maybe you can help me and add a few to this list.

There’s a difference in being constructive with your spouse and being a source of constant agony and criticism.  Your home should be safe.  You spouse should feel safe with you.  Part of the safety is to have deep enough relationship where things of correction can and should be shared. BUT…if that is all your spouse hears…if he/she NEVER matches up to what you think they should be….marital weariness will set in. Lethargy will consume your spouse and undermine your marital joy.

Purposely cause stress.
Every single person has to deal with one form of stress or another on a daily basis. It is just a fact of life. Scientists have yet to discover a miracle cure that will just make our stress evaporate and therefore we have to find other ways to deal with it. Stress affects everyone and there are good and bad ways to deal with it. When you know your spouse stresses over certain issues, your attempt to be playful by irritating those issues will not come off in a healthy way.  To attack sensitive areas of stress will speak a lack of care and creative a rift between you and your spouse. It will undermine rest and peace in your marriage.

Tolerate Pornography.
Guilt, mistrust, and anger about pornography can tear your marriage apart. Turning to pornography may cause your spouse to withdraw from your relationship because he receives instant gratification from his/her fantasies. When your spouse views porn you may feel disrespected, take it personally, and believe that you aren’t enough for him. This can create a wedge in your marriage. Pornography could make it difficult for your husband to see sex as a loving form of communication. As a result, pornography can decrease sexual satisfaction within your marriage.

Entertain a “single” lifestyle.
I read a great article by Focus on the Family which stated, “Over the past century, the path to marriage has grown increasingly dominated by an entertainment-based dating system that makes the time couples spend together full of ticketed events: movies, concerts, sporting events and so on. It’s a season characterized primarily by fun. After moving from that season into the routine life of marriage, couples often find it challenging to stop focusing on fun and begin the work of building a marriage.” We could turn this into it’s own blog, but when we entertain a single lifestyle, we get duped into a false sense of what we are missing.  It get’s our focus off of what we need to work on and into what we think we are missing. It will undermine our sense of fulfillment in our marriage.

Be too busy for your marriage.
Being too busy…such as not properly communicating or spending quality time. It’s not allowing intimacy. Workaholism is being unavailable on every level (spiritual, emotional, physical, etc). I understand busyness and I understand providing for your families. I understand sacrifices that are a part of life.  What I don’t understand is doing it all while sacrificing family. This is where openness needs to be fostered in the marriage to help warn against signs of workaholism and the dangers that come from absent spouses.  Busyness easily undermine the cohesiveness of your time together.

Threatening to leave.
This is an unnecessary risk and manipulation that may attract disaster to the relationship. If you make threats, you put in motion a destructive mentality. Why create what you don’t want? Why implant programming that undermines what you really want?
Why not foster an atmosphere of healthy conflict resolution so that you and your mate can make a mutual  commitment to heal upset feelings and work toward what you really want. Threats undermine trust in your marriage.

Fostering unforgiveness.
How can anyone behave differently towards you if you keep your hurts in the dark and do not give your spouse the opportunity to know what is true for you? How can you fully love someone else when you are holding on to the toxins of bitterness, sadness or regret? Unforgiveness is the cancer of marriage and I can’t preach, teach, blog, and counsel on it enough.  I deal with this more than most. Forgiveness is a decision.  Healing comes in time.  Trust comes in time.  Make a decision to walk in forgiveness and grace the way Christ has done with you.  Unforgiveness will break apart and undermine your marriage.

Refuse to admit you’re wrong.
It’s nothing more than prideful crap. I’m sorry to be so blunt. It’s a dumb facade that people put up to protect some false sense of security. Your refusal to admit wrong puts a barrier around you.  It’s not that you are not “touchable.” It’s that your spouse doesn’t want to come near you. Pride repels love.  Pride disfigures you and creates an unattractive image about you. Pride will undermine intimacy in every way.

Making decisions without your spouse.
Not letting the partner influence your decisions is a sure way to undermine oneness and invite insensitivity and defensiveness. By not listening you are not respecting your mate. I bring up Psalm 133 a lot in marriage counseling. “Where there’s unity, God commands his blessing.” I’m not saying you don’t have the faculties to make decisions without your spouse, but when your spouse doesn’t feel like a part of the marriage because he/she has no say in the marriage does nothing but undermine communication and vision for your marriage.

Refusing to care for yourself.
What does the way you care for yourself speak to your spouse? By not staying healthy (not taking care of yourself, your appearance, abusing substances, addictive patterns, etc) makes a huge statement to your spouse that you don’t care.  Why did you care before you were married?  Why not care about it now? I’m not saying that you need to be back to a form you were on the high school team or pre-kids, but effort toward taking care of yourself in a healthy way speaks volumes of concern, stewardship, and love to your mate.  To ignore it is to undermine your marriage.


Did I forget some?  Are there others that need to be on here?


Thanks for letting me ramble…