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Criticism -- Constructive Or Not?

Photo Credit:  Ian Schneider

We recently read an article on constructive criticism in marriage.  The bottom line was "don't do it."  Even, "Can I give you some feedback?" was followed by "Beware!"  I was immediately critical of the article.  Those who know me know I don't roll over and play dead, especially when I am passionate about something.  So we came up with 5 Key Points to help avoid triggering a land mine in this sensitive area of relationship.


1.  Pause and reflect on the intent:  I  (MF) like to be seen as efficient, organized, and attentive to time.  If I criticize Tom for being late, implying he is lazy or irresponsible it will likely not go well.  If my focus is on Tom: "Gee, I'm glad you're home!  It must have been a long day," he is aware of my empathy and compassion from the very beginning.  With this as my focus, I am less likely to come across as coercive or judgmental.

2.  Ask Permission:  If I have taken a moment to pause and reflect on whose needs might be met -- mine or Mary Frances, it would follow that I would seek permission.  "Would you mind some feedback?"  If I Ass-u-me  Mary Frances wants feedback I could land my A _ _  in hot water.

3.  Be Positive:  I try to be encouraging, kind and compassionate.  If I sense Mary Frances is stressed  because she has taken on too much I might offer to help.  "I know you have a lot on your plate, perhaps we can work on this together?"  This is much more effective than "I guess you will never learn!"  Instead of my focus on 'fixing' Mary Frances, I turn my intent and my heart to 'helping' her.

4.  Focus on the Present Situation:  Absolutes like: "You always" and "You never" are simply not true and certainly not pertinent to the present situation.  Keeping my focus on Tom's fatigue when he arrives home late keeps me from blame and criticism and builds trust.  It can set the table for conversation when we are both rested and at our best.

5.  Keep it Practical:  Focus on specific ways to improve, perhaps prioritizing, simplifying, asking for help.  The key here is conversation  and not a lecture.   Ask questions.  How can I help?  Is there something I can do for you before I leave the office?  Keep it within the realm of your relationship, accepting limitations and pulling to each of your strengths.  Our focus is a joint effort at moving forward, helping each other discover new ways to grow.


Offering feedback is tricky.  If we are not improving our skills in this area, we are likely to make the same mistakes repeatedly.  Staying silent, the old: "walk away slowly and nobody gets hurt" is not good either.  When we see an opportunity for our spouse to grow, gentle confrontation, not
Photo Credit:  Azrul Aziz
ignoring them may be the most loving behavior.  Skillfully navigating positive feedback as a mutual discussion elevates both of us and shows each of us that we care.  It can build trust and confidence, and destroys competition.

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