It's easy to forget this key to a happy life together.
There’s a key to a happy marriage that it’s easy to forget about. Cheerleading! You should be the biggest advocate for and supporter of your spouse. This is the person you chose out of everyone to spend the rest of your life loving. But it’s very easy to instead become your spouse’s biggest critic and detractor. It happens slowly sometimes. When life is going well, and you’re both feeling happy and fulfilled, it’s much easier to support each other and build each other up. But if one of you is going through a rough time, or starting to feel unloved or resentful, it’s tempting to quickly switch to the role of critic. It could be that many of the critiques you have for your spouse are true. But, a constant stream of negativity does not make for a loving environment for either of you, and just breeds more negativity.
Dr. John Gottman of the Gottman Institute has done a lot of research on marriage and divorce, and says that one of the most dangerous habits in any relationship is criticism. He explains that it’s not that you should avoid bringing up problems that you see. It’s important to talk through issues, but the way you bring up an issue is key. If you’re constantly focused on how your spouse is annoying you and disappointing you, and that’s how you approach the conversation, it’s not going to go well.
It may be that you’ve noticed a cycle of negativity in your own marriage. If that’s the case, here are a few concrete ways to build up your spouse. These can help restore a more supportive and loving environment in your home.
1Think about your words
What do you nag your spouse about most often? How could you cut back on the negativity and insert some positivity instead? Find ways to compliment rather than criticize. Notice positive or helpful things your spouse does (especially if those things are just “his” or “her” territory) and say thank you.
2Work on your delivery and body language
It’s often as much about how you say something as you what you say. The folded arms and gritted teeth compliment is not as nice to receive as the genuine smile with a quick hug or arm touch compliment.
On the other hand, think about how you communicate when there’s a problem you need to discuss. If your spouse approaches you calmly, without accusations, asking if now would be a good time to talk about something, you’re much more likely to respond well. Contrast that to someone blindsiding you with complaints about how you handle X situation poorly. You’re probably going to respond defensively, and the rest of the conversation will follow suit, and probably not end well.
3Check your actions
Are there a few little things you could do to make your spouse’s life easier? A chore? A treat? A note? The more little things you seek out, the more you’ll find. If one person starts creating a more helpful, loving atmosphere, it can often turn a negative situation or atmosphere around. Actions can speak louder than words in this case. It may be that you’re struggling with figuring out how to communicate better. But, if you’re seeking out ways to show your spouse you love him or her, it may just flow into how you talk to each other, too.
Whether you’re just starting to notice your inner critic coming out in your marriage, or if criticism is an established pattern you have to break, your marriage and spouse deserve a positive change. It will take work, but that work is incredibly worthwhile. Don’t wait.