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The Key to Intimacy (Part 5 of 5)

  • Dr. H. Norman Wright Counselor/ Therapist
  • 2001 5 Nov
The Key to Intimacy (Part 5 of 5)

Various Forms of Criticism


Criticism can be hidden under the camouflage of humor. When confronted about it, a person will avoid the responsibility by saying, “Hey, I was just joking.” It reminds me of the passage in Proverbs: “Like a madman shooting deadly, burning arrows is the one who tricks a neighbor and then says, ‘I was just joking’” (Prov. 26:18,19, NCV).


Faultfinding is a favorite response of the perfectionistic spouse. Criticism is usually destructive, but it’s interesting to hear those who criticize say they’re just trying to remold their partner into a better person by offering some “constructive” criticism. All too often criticism doesn’t construct, it demolishes. It doesn’t nourish a relationship, it poisons. Often the presentation is like this description: “There is one who speaks rashly like the thrusts of a sword” (Prov. 12:18). Destructive criticism accuses, tries to make the other feel guilty, intimidates and is often an outgrowth of personal resentment.


Criticism comes in many shapes and sizes. You’ve heard of zingers—those lethal verbally guided missiles. A zinger comes at you with a sharp point and a jagged barb that catches the flesh as it goes in. The power of these caustic statements is apparent when you realize that one zinger can undo 20 acts of kindness. That’s right, 20!

Once a zinger has landed, the effect is similar to a radioactive cloud that settles on an area of what used to be prime farmland. The land is so contaminated by the radioactivity that even though seeds are scattered and plants are planted, they fail to take root. They subsequently die out or are washed away by the elements. It takes decades for the contamination to dissipate.

Loving words following the placement of a zinger find a similar hostile soil. It may take hours before there is receptivity or positive response to your positive overtures.2

Invalidating Words

Another form of criticism is called invalidation and is often the cause of marital distress. When invalidation is present in a marriage, it destroys the effect of validation, as well as the friendship relationship of marriage. Sometimes couples get along and maintain their relationship without sufficient validation, but they cannot handle continual invalidation. This is yet another example of one negative comment destroying 20 acts of kindness.3

Invalidation is like a slow, fatal disease that, once established in a relationship, spreads and destroys the positive feelings. As one wife said, “The so-called friend I married became my enemy with his unexpected attacks. I felt demeaned, put down, and my self-esteem slowly crumbled. I guess that’s why our fights escalated so much. I had to fight to survive.”

To keep love and your marriage alive, keep the criticism out of it.

What’s Your Plan?

1. When was the last time you quarreled with your spouse? How was the quarrel resolved?
2. What could you do differently the next time?
3. Describe how you feel when you are criticized.
4. Describe how you can turn criticism into positive comments.

1. Sven Wahlroos, Family Communication (New York: Harper & Row, 1974), p. 3.
2. Clifford Notarius and Howard Markman, We Can Work It Out (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1993), p. 28, adapted.
3. Ibid., pp. 123, 124, adapted.

Excerpted by permission from Communication Key to Your Marriage by H. Norman Wright (Regal Books), p. 77-79.


Dr. H. Norman Wright is a graduate of Westmont College (B.A. Christian Education), Fuller Theological Seminary (M.R.E.), and Pepperdine University (M.A. in Clinical Psychology) and has received honorary doctorates D.D. and D.Litt. from Western Conservative Baptist Seminary and Biola University respectively. He has pioneered premarital counseling programs throughout the country. Dr. Wright is the author of over 65 books—including the best-selling Always Daddy’s Girl and Quiet Times for Couples. He and his wife, Joyce, have a married daughter, Sheryl, and a son, Matthew, who was profoundly retarded and is now deceased. The Wrights make their home in Southern California.