Listen to a broadcast about choosing the right attitude with Deborah Pegues.
My grandmother would often ask my grandfather, “Joe, why did you do it that way?” or “Are you ever going to complete that?” Even as a child, I sensed Grandpa Joe grow more sullen at Granny’s frequent criticisms. I never saw any tender moments between them.
When I became an adult, the unhealthy attitudes that I “inherited” from my grandparents threatened the stability of my own marriage. But I learned how to conquer them by developing conflict-resolution skills and becoming more appreciative of my spouse. I can now say I’ve countered my grandmother’s legacy of being contentious and critical.
A contentious attitude
It took years before I accepted the fact that my husband holds differing views and that different doesn’t mean bad. Rather than trying to win an argument, I’ve found that using simple phrases such as, “I hear you” or “I respect your right to differ” can help maintain a peaceful environment.
If you’re contentious in expressing your desires rather than communicating calmly and directly, your husband may want to flee or emotionally withdraw. King Solomon summarized the principle this way: “It is better to dwell in a corner of a housetop, than in a house shared with a contentious woman” (Proverbs 25:24, NKJV).
A more effective model for conflict-resolution goes like this: “Husband, when you [describe the problematic behavior], I feel [disrespected, angry, etc.]. I’d really appreciate it if you would [request specific actions].” For example, I once said to my husband on a road trip, “When you speed, I feel that you don’t care about my safety. I’d like you to slow down.”
He responded, “Take a nap.”
OK, so you may not always get the immediate results you desire, but at least you haven’t sent your frustration underground. Of course, I did go on to calmly explain that unless he drove more safely, I’d be reluctant to take future road trips.
A critical attitude
Early in our marriage, I developed the bad habit of correcting my husband’s grammar. I would caution, “People judge you by how you speak.” While I eventually stopped correcting him in public, it frustrated him that he had to be on grammar guard even at home. Looking back, I can’t believe that I thought criticism would effect change. It’s not a long-term strategy for a rewarding relationship. Critical words can lodge like shrapnel in your husband’s mind, causing him to feel defensive, devalued, rejected or even resentful.
If you slip into a critical mindset, ask yourself two questions: Am I trying to shape my husband based on my own insecurities or an unfair comparison with other people’s marriages? Do I have unmet needs, frustrations or expectations that I could express in a more constructive way? Perhaps it’s time to apply Ephesians 4:29: “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” It’s an interesting paradox that when a man knows his wife accepts him “as is,” he becomes more amenable to change. After I started complimenting my husband on his progress, he started to perfect his grammar. Today, he’s the person I trust most to edit my writing.
I encourage you to seek God’s grace to resist contentious and critical attitudes so that you may experience the joy of a fulfilling and God-honoring marriage.
Deborah Pegues is an international speaker, TV host and author of 17 books, including the best-selling 30 Days to Taming Your Tongue.