Recently I had a reader ask me about how to deal with a controlling and critical spouse. I have to say that I’m guilty of playing both positions on this one—offense and defense. And I can say from first-hand experience that I think control and criticism are two of the biggest mess makers out there.
Let’s say that you have a spouse that likes to follow certain unwritten rules. You’ve known this from the first day you laid eyes on each other. In fact, you found this knack for knowing just what to do in every situation attractive at first—that was until your spouse started telling “you what to do!” And not only does your spouse tell you what to do, but there’s an underlying judgment or criticism that stings of superiority as well.
How do you deal with that kind of attitude?
It’s an attitude that certainly doesn’t feel like it belongs in a loving and respectful marriage. But then again, marriage can be messy. Whenever two imperfect people with the baggage of their personalities and pasts come together, there are bound to be some major meltdowns.
But I’ve found that there are certain “exercises” that help to build my marriage muscles:
1. Prayer journal
Maybe you pray, but don’t prayer journal. Both are effective, but there’s something that happens when I write/type my prayers. It’s as if God reveals to me my thoughts so much more clearly—opening my eyes to my contribution and my wrong attitudes. It’s a small nuance in my spiritual life that I feel is very helpful.
2. Talk to someone who knows how to process feelings
I am blessed to have several counselor-type, Christian friends who know how to help me process my feelings. This is much different than venting to a friend who will tell you how rotten your spouse is. If you don’t have a friend in your life that can do this, find a good Christian counselor.
3. Forgive my spouse
If I am harboring anger or even small irritations toward my spouse, then I need to take the time to forgive him. That simply means I accept the hurtful things he’s done to me, knowing that I cannot change the past or him. I also find the motivation to forgive by realizing my own sins and failures. But even more important than that, I realize the huge sacrifice Christ gave in dying and forgiving me. For more articles on forgiveness, click on MM’s “Forgiveness” label.
4. Learn how to communicate feelings and needs respectfully
Communication is difficult and complex, especially when I have hurt or bitter feelings that have been festering for a while. Although I may accept my spouse’s past offenses, I don’t have to pretend that they never happened. I learn how to communicate my hurt feelings in a way that opens a dialogue. I ask for what I need to change in a way that is both respectful and receptive to input. A good book on this subject is How to Have That Difficult Conversation You’ve Been Avoiding
, as well as, Boundaries
(both books by Cloud and Townsend).
Although control and criticism are hurtful, being committed to finding positive ways to deal with those hurt feelings can bring healing and be the “weights” God uses to make our marriage muscles stronger!