Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Another Alternative to Criticism

A Lesson from the Creation

As we read the account of the creation in Genesis, we notice that God paused after each period of creation and “saw that it was good”. He didn’t wait until the entire creation was finished to say it was good. He acknowledged and celebrated each day.

None of us are perfect (complete, finished or fully developed) but we can follow the example given in the creation and acknowledge and celebrate what we do right along the way – every day -- even while knowing there is yet much more to do.

Instead of criticizing, we can focus more on what is right, what we do appreciate. In David Burns book, Feeling Good Together, he suggests that we try to give 25 compliments a week. Try it. Even if you don’t give that many, it’s a great way to change your mindset from focusing more on the negative to focusing more on the positive.

Remember, God "saw that it was good" every day!

Friday, November 20, 2009

An Alternative to Criticism

Think about the last time you criticized your spouse, what were you thinking and feeling just before you gave your criticism? It’s often hard to identify because it’s most likely not a thought or feeling we want to have. It may be a feeling of anxiety or insecurity, for example, and those are very uncomfortable feelings. Thoughts might be something like “Do you really value me?” or “Can I count on you when I need you?”

What’s interesting is that what we are really thinking and feeling is that we want to be reassured that our spouse is there for us, that we are securely connected. However, instead of asking for that reassurance, we criticize, which usually creates even more emotional distance and thus increases our anxiety and insecurity. As the scripture says “It is not good for man (or woman) to be alone”. We want and need to be close and connected. It is a universal, even biological need.

So instead of criticizing, we can look at what our needs and desires really are and express those to our spouse. For example, instead of saying “You need to quit being so disrespectful”, we can say something like “I feel really hurt when you do that. It makes me feel like you don’t value me and it's important to me to know that you value me.” By recognizing and sharing these kinds of feelings honestly and sincerely, we are much more likely to receive the reassurance we need and as a result, feel even closer and more securely connected to our spouse.

Friday, November 13, 2009


Earlier this week was the 20 year anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall. What a historic occasion that was 20 years ago! For those of us who lived through those years when the wall was up, we saw its fall and the subsequent reunification of Germany as nothing short of a miracle.

Just like the Berlin wall, we sometimes build symbolic walls, walls that supposedly protect us from sharing vulnerable feelings and risking getting rejected and hurt. They also, of course, prevent us from connecting and feeling the joy that comes from having close relationships. Some couples live with these walls for years and see little hope of them ever coming down.

But just like the Berlin wall has shown us, there is hope! Our walls can come down -even if they've been up for years - and we can be close and united with our loved ones again. Miracles can and do happen, including the domino effect, so movingly illustrated in the 20 year celebration. We just need to take the first step and have the courage to tear down our walls.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Other Destructive Weeds

John Gottman, in his study and observation of marriages, has pointed out four behaviors that he says, if left uncorrected, will destroy marriages. He calls them the “4 horsemen of the apocalypse”. They are criticism, defensiveness, contempt and stonewalling.

Most likely anyone that reads this will recognize some of these “destructive weeds” in their own marriages. We probably all criticize from time to time or react defensively, especially when we feel threatened. Contempt and stonewalling are more desperate (and harmful) measures but even they may creep up from time to time.

So why are criticism, defensiveness, contempt and stonewalling so destructive to relationships? For one thing, they all serve to divide rather than to connect. When we criticize (or receive criticism), for example, we are no longer viewing our loved one as a friend or ally, but, in a sense, as our enemy. Defensiveness has the same effect. We are protecting ourselves and thus becoming more distant and less connected from our loved one. Contempt and stonewalling also presume enmity.

When we view each other as enemies or opponents rather than as friends or allies, we no longer work together and grow together. Instead we go our separate ways. We are alone, weak and vulnerable. Criticism, defensiveness, contempt and stonewalling are not just destructive to marriages, they are destructive to individuals. In future posts to this blog I will address healthier alternatives to these destructive behaviors.