What to Do When Your Spouse Can't Take Criticism
- Dr. David B. Hawkins The Marriage Recovery Center
- 2015 15 Sep
“I can’t say anything to him without him erupting in defense,” a woman said recently, shooting a hard stare at her husband who had come with her to a three-day Marriage Intensive.
“It just stops me from sharing anything,” she continued. “I feel more distant from him than ever before in our marriage.”
He looked blankly back at her as an awkward silence settled over the room.
Married for twenty years, Donald and Theresa had come to heal years of wounds. The distance between them was far greater than the few feet that separated them on the office couch.
“I don’t think I’m the only one who doesn’t take criticism well,” he offered. “I can’t give her any criticism either.”
Theresa looked puzzled.
“I’m not sure what you mean, Donald,” she said. “I want to hear anything I’m doing that causes you pain. I want to grow. You can tell me anything as long as you do it in a loving way.”
As I got to know Donald and Theresa, clearly both struggled to share feelings with the other. However, counseling over the three days revealed that Theresa actually was receptive to feedback that would help her grow. He, on the other hand, clearly struggled when she or myself offered critical feedback.
I shared with both about the importance of hearing feedback concerning problems that inhibited effective sharing and growth. It is critical that we hear about “blind spots” we all have that become self-defeating patterns. These “blind spots” and defensive posturing stop the free flow of communication. Consider some of these symptoms of the thin-skinned man (or woman) that stop healthy communication in marriage:
- Denial of responsibility
- Stonewalling silence and retreat
- Angry outbursts
- Defensiveness and overreaction
- Accusatory responses
- Partial acceptance
- Taking things personally
- Distorting the message
Donald exhibited all of these symptoms, making emotional and relational growth impossible. In fact, Donald and Theresa’s relationship had been stuck for years, leading to their current marriage crisis.
Let’s consider some steps to growing beyond being thin-skinned:
First, create an environment for critical feedback. Couples must intentionally determine whether they value giving helpful, critical feedback. Couples must determine to have a relationship where feedback, helpful to the marriage, is given freely in an atmosphere of love and respect. Scripture tells us to “Speak the truth in love.” (Ephesians 4: 15) Done in love, critical feedback helps us grow and rid ourselves of destructive character flaws.
Second, understand that no one is perfect. Reminded that we are fully loved, healthy couples tell each other the truth, expecting change while also understanding no one is perfect. There is an old saying, “God is not finished with me yet.” Healthy couples dispense equal portions of grace and truth.
Third, embrace critical feedback. Donald needed to understand the importance of embracing critical feedback. We cannot grow without being shown and told where our words and actions are hurtful. Knowing that we are a work in progress, we embrace critical feedback. We cultivate a “thicker skin” and utilize the feedback for growth.
Fourth, practice accepting critical feedback and even asking for it. Having created an environment for growth, knowing we are imperfect, we practice accepting critical feedback and even ask for it. We remind our mate that we want to hear those things that may make us feel uncomfortable. We offer our mate necessary reassurance that their feedback keeps the marriage alive and vibrant.
Fifth, apply the critical feedback to your life. Hearing the critical feedback is not enough. Of course, we must apply the truths to our lives and engage in a change process. Scripture tells us that we experience a “Godly sorrow that leads to repentance.” Repentance leads to turning away from sinful behavior.
Finally, appreciate positive changes made. Growth can be enjoyable. In fact, life becomes boring and stagnant without growth. Growth, by definition, is challenging. As we face and embrace challenge, we grow. As we grow, we have the opportunity of vibrant connection to each other.
As we progressed through the Marriage Intensive, Donald was able to initially accept critical feedback and then, as we created more and more safety and acceptance, more critical feedback that led to growth, necessary change and powerful intimacy.
If you are struggling with a thin-skinned mate, I’d like to hear from you. Please read more about strategies for emotional growth and explore more about my Marriage Intensives at www.MarriageRecoveryCenter.com. Send comments to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dr. David Hawkins, MBA, MSW, MA, PhD, is a clinical psychologist who has helped bring healing to thousands of marriages and individuals since he began his work in 1976. Dr. Hawkins is passionate about working with couples in crisis and offering them ways of healing their wounds and finding their way back to being passionately in love with each other.
Over the past ten years, Dr. Hawkins has become a leader in the field of treatment for narcissism and emotional abuse within relationships. He has developed several programs for treatment of men dealing with these issues and the women who love them. Dr. Hawkins is also a speaker & trainer for the American Association of Christian Counselors and writes for Crosswalk.com, CBN.org, and iBelieve.com. He is a weekly guest on Moody Radio and Faith Radio and is a best-selling author of over thirty books.