Loving Your Negative Spouse

How to handle constant criticism

From the looks of things, Jenny* was the proverbial have-it-all-together woman. She was attractive, lived in a nice house, and didn't need to worry about money. She even had a caring husband, two healthy children, and was very "needed" at her church.

But as the marital therapy began, it did not take long to understand one of her husband's frustrations—Jenny was negative about almost everything, especially about everything her husband, Ron, did. Jenny expected that sooner or later, all aspects of her life would turn sour. The children would become ill, her husband would have an affair, their money would run out, and she knew she wasn't really attractive. Ron's brief attempts at encouragement were always met with an argument. Rarely a day passed that Ron didn't hear how his way of doing things was somehow wrong or disliked by Jenny.

Therapy for them had two challenges. The first was to help Jenny realize the reasons behind her behavior and how to make healthy changes. The second was to help Ron live with her in an understanding and yet maritally beneficial way. That second part cannot be overlooked. It is not uncommon for a negative, fault-finding spouse to avoid changing at the beginning of therapy, primarily because they don't want to. That being the case, the other spouse is often left wondering, "Is there anything I can do that can encourage them, help me, and ultimately improve our marriage?" And the answer is "yes."

Why Do People Become Negative?

From a very early age, we learn to act or not act a certain way because a behavior benefits us. A baby cries and gets fed; a child brings home a good report card and gets praised; an adult works hard and gets promoted and a raise; and a person learns to see things from a negative vantage point because that is what their family did, it brought them attention, or it is where they find confidence or validate their lack of confidence. In short, spouses who are always finding fault with their mates do so out of what it gets them—good or bad. It is the way they feel most secure in life.

We could also have a long discussion as to why a person would marry someone who continually shows their disapproval, and the reasons are similar. For example, it is common for a woman who had a critical father to marry a man who will continue to be critical of her. First, it is what she knows, and, second, she is still trying to find the approval from a significant male who has eluded her all her life. All of this is to say that there is more to why we choose to marry someone than we may think.

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Criticism; Marriage; Spouse
Today's Christian Woman, Winter, 2000
Posted September 30, 2008

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