tHave you ever felt decidedly uncomfortable when you hear someone dishing out criticism? I have a ‘nails on a chalkboard’ reaction when I hear others being critical but I’m not always aware of when I am guilty of it. Criticism can be an habit that is so engrained that it’s like a wheel that just keeps turning. Once that thing is in action it’s really difficult to jump off and stop the cycle.
When our son Ryan was little, we bought him a Syrian hamster which he named Cyrus. Of course, we also purchased all the things he needed to look after his hamster including tunnels, bedding, a water bottle and feeding area and yes, the kitchen sink for hamster homes – a wheel. What we didn’t realise when we bought it was that Cyrus was nocturnal. He loved his wheel, and that wheel would get the most use in the middle of the night. Every turn of the wheel accentuated a small squeak which we hadn’t noticed at all when we bought it. Cyrus wasn’t so cute when he was running laps! He frequently made us wonder why a hamster is content to spin around endlessly on a hamster wheel. Seriously though, what is it that fascinates them so much that they just keep doing it? We never did find a satisfactory answer to our questions, but we all eventually learned to tune him out. It’s not so easy to do that when criticism is being directed at you.
Are you like a squeaky wheel?
Unfortunately, many people have hopped on to their own squeaky wheel: a wheel of criticism. Each rung of negativity leads to the next rung and very soon that wheel is spinning and squeaking at full throttle. Criticism is more than a complaint, it usually involves character assassination. Criticism is an attack. When it’s moving at that pace, it’s more likely that your spouse will jump on the wheel with you and start countering every criticism you make with one of their own. The wheel spins faster and faster until it’s out of control. It usually stops when exhaustion sets in and they decide it’s not worth fighting any more, but that doesn’t mean that they exit the wheel in harmony. Hurt, contempt and resentment are the by-products of criticism.
Many are so used to jumping on the criticism wheel that they have never stopped to think what they are doing and why they are doing it. That’s what habits are like, they become a default setting. Just as a hamster hops on its wheel and starts running; our minds can start running but not in a healthy way.
Why do you jump on the criticism wheel?
Most have never stopped to consider that when they criticise, they are launching an attack not only on their spouse but on the safety and security of their relationship. It’s rare to find people who deliberately want to hurt their spouse, but negative emotions are a driving force which triggers getting on ‘the wheel’.
Galatians 5:15 ESV
But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.
Frustration when something hasn’t been put away, irritation when your spouse is relaxing while you’re still busy with some household task, jealousy of a perceived ‘easier life’, disappointment when they take you for granted or anger when they misunderstand and misinterpret your intentions are all emotions that are strong enough to get that wheel spinning.
How do you stop the criticism wheel?
One of the first questions we hear from couples isn’t ‘How do I stop being critical?’, it’s ‘How do I get my point across if I can’t speak my mind?’ They fear being trapped in a realm of silence and sentenced to putting up with their spouse’s bad behaviour. Getting off the criticism wheel doesn’t mean that you are never able to communicate what’s troubling you, but it does mean that you start communicating more effectively. In fact, it will mean that you open up opportunities to be heard rather than dismissed as an annoyance.
Proverbs 15:1 ESV
A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.
You can’t stop and give the wheel another push simultaneously. Self-control isn’t easy, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to break the habit. Stopping isn’t just refusing to say what you’re thinking, but it is changing what you think. You can choose to re-wire your brain by pulling it back from the direction it’s going in and choosing the path you want it to take. The word ‘but’ can interrupt a thought pattern. You might be thinking ‘He never thinks to put his cup away’, which would then lead to ‘he just sits there unwilling to help, he’s lazy and a waste of space’. Instead, try and balance the negative with a positive. ‘He never thinks to put his cup away, but he does help me when I ask’. The ‘but’ insert doesn’t work if it’s followed by another negative statement. ‘He never thinks to put his cup away, but why should I expect him to get off his lazy bum and help when he never does.’
You’ll find a poster on a wall in many classrooms. It says, ‘Before you speak: THINK. T- Is it true? H – Is it helpful? I – Is it inspiring? N – Is it necessary? K – Is it kind?’ While as adults, we embrace the idea of our children being taught these great principles, it’s not always true that we live by them. Perhaps the same reminder could be stuck to your fridge, so you don’t forget this applies to you too.
Fools give full vent to their rage,
but the wise bring calm in the end.
Open Your Mind.
We are meaning-making machines and when someone does something or says something which hurts us we think we know the reason why. The reality is that our brain is capable of making mistakes, something the psychologists call ‘Cognitive Distortions’. A cognitive distortion results in 2+2=5 instead of 4 but instead of accepting the error, we convince ourselves that we are one hundred per cent right.
If you’re like every other person in the world, you’ll have had conversations when you are sure that the other person has bad intentions. When they try and correct your thinking you put them right by telling them exactly what must be going on in their heads. Last time I checked, mind-reading wasn’t a skill I had listed on my resume and yet, in the past, I’ve convinced myself that I have the superpower of discerning someone else’s heart.
1 Samuel 16:7 b ESV
For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”
This doesn’t mean having a good gossip about your spouse’s behaviour to your friends. Instead, take time out to pray about what you’re doing. Ask God to help you to take a step back from the situation and try and look at it from another perspective. Check that you aren’t wearing biased lenses which only allow you to see your own point of view. Interrogate your beliefs by asking yourself if there is another way to see the situation, what else could your spouse be thinking? Better still ask your spouse but do it with open ears to hear what is really going on inside their head.
Bringing Worlds Together Book
Many couples struggle to get on the same page in marriage. Whether you are newlyweds or have been married for years Bringing Worlds Together will help you blend together. Expect to learn more about your spouse, gain insight and be challenged.
Are you ready to move closer rather than drift apart?
Available in print and ebook formats.
Adjusting Expectations Book
No-one enters marriage expectation free. Adjusting Expectations helps identify how expectations were formed and whether or not they were realistic. Most expectations need some adjustment; they are often too high but can also be set too low. The good news is expectations can be reset!
Find out what you should expect and what God expects from you.
Available in print and ebook formats.
Improving Communication Book
Most couples would willingly admit that their communication could do with some improvement; although many people also point the finger of blame squarely at their spouse for communication failures. Whether you believe it’s your fault, their fault or that you’re both to blame, this book is for you! There is always room for improvement.
Available in print and ebook formats.