Careful Criticism in Marriage
What's the ideal way to express your hurt feelings to your husband?
Criticism, especially when it is packaged as sarcasm, is cruel and relays a message of rejection. It is never helpful to sit down and list our husbands' negative character traits. Only on certain very rare occasions when there is no option should things be said that will undoubtedly cause our husbands pain. But even at those exceptional times, we’ve got to take great care to say what we have to say as gently as possible and with great sincerity.
Let’s say we feel slighted and are anxious to pick a fight with our husband. To avoid such a negative interaction, we feel we’ve got to express our hurt feelings to him. Or else, we realize, we will have to try to bury the anger, and then it will become a much deeper problem.
For this purpose we should abide by the following rules.
Rule one: Choose the right time to express our feelings. When our husband comes home, for instance, we need to wait until he has eaten and is feeling more relaxed and available to us, before we pour out our hearts to him. Remember this well: Let’s refrain from expressing our feelings when our husband is hungry, late, busy, or tired. We're doomed to fail if we forget to heed this warning!
Rule two: Let what’s bothering us be discussed only after we’ve already said to our husband something more positive and pleasant. In other words, let’s say something genuinely nice to him first, not to be phoney, or to catch him off guard, but for two much better reasons. Speaking pleasantly with him will force our thoughts and feelings to flow in a slightly more positive direction, and it will help him be more receptive to what we are about to say next. It’s even better if our problem is the third thing we bring up, after two positive subjects have been discussed, but for starters, let’s be happy with stating our grievance secondly.
Rule three: Say gently what’s on our minds. We’re allowed to say what we have to, but let’s try to keep ourselves in control. Our purpose is to convey as clearly as possible what is bothering us. That’s what this confrontation is about — our feelings. Let’s not demand of him change. Let’s just concentrate on our own feelings right then, not on how we want him to act differently in order to make us feel better.
Three things which are never helpful for us to do if we are really trying to bridge a gap in communication are: bearing a grudge, sleeping on a fight, and competing with our husbands. Feelings of companionship are so much more pleasurable. When he’s down, listen. Support him; don’t ignore him. In a supportive atmosphere, we are able to resolve problems, and when that’s not possible, at least to learn to live with them.
The main cause of difficulties in marriages is the inability of the partners to communicate their feelings, needs, and expectations to each other. This is a very close and personal type of communication. It’s a far cry from the social but impersonal type of ”How-are-you-fine-thanks-and-you?” style.
A marriage relationship needs plenty of tenderness. We need to express our devotion to our husband by being open and receptive, which is our true nature. Why hold back from being the emotional people we really are? Let’s make it a point to express many good feelings as often as we can. A happy family expresses a lot of positive feelings to one another.
Men in the contemporary world have much more difficulty expressing their positive feelings than we do. We can uplift our husbands’ spirits through our show of appreciation and affection. Whenever possible, we can express our good feelings about them in a direct and clear manner.
For example, before we leave each other in the morning, let’s take several seconds off from rushing around to share moments of tenderness. It will make the whole day that follows immeasurably better. Why be stingy with expressions of affection? There is no shortage of them available to us. Let our lives together be as pleasant as can be.
Adapted from "Two Halves Of A Whole" by Rabbi Yirmiyohu & Tehilla Abramov. Available at www.jewishfamily.org