How does one deal with a spouse who is overly critical and thinks it is funny to insult me in front of our friends and family? When I try to talk to her about these situations, she says I am overly sensitive and have no sense of humor. I do not think these comments are funny. I love her and I plan on staying married but would very much like to improve this part of our relationship. Any advice?
I am going to give you two possible solutions — a direct approach and a sneaky approach. You can decide which feels more comfortable.
Just so you know, I always base my advice on universal principles of truth. So I’m going to explain the principles behind these two approaches.
Here are the first two principles of truth:
Principle 1: When you validate another person’s thoughts and feelings first, they become more open to validating yours. They also become more willing to listen to how you feel and respect those feelings.
Principle 2: If you can have validating conversations with your spouse, there is no issue you cannot resolve.
Here are some instructions for having validating conversations:
1. Pull the person aside and ask if this is a good time to talk.
Do not have this conversation in the heat of the moment when you are annoyed or angry. Take time to step back and get a clear head first. The conversation will go better if you can focus on your love for this person.
Validating conversations are not about criticizing or attacking the other person for their bad behavior — they are about making both parties feel valued and appreciated. These conversations are about love.
2. Don’t criticize or put the other person on the defensive. This conversation must be motivated by love, not defensiveness. If you approach this in a defensive manner, you will trigger defensiveness in her and get nowhere.
3. Ask questions about what she thinks about your relationship and how she feels about it. Listen to her thoughts and feelings and validate her right to see the situation the way she does.
Ask questions about whether she feels loved and respected by you. Listen to her thoughts and feelings. This part of the conversation is about making her feel valued by honoring and respecting how she feels.
4. Next, ask if she would be open to hearing some of your feelings, even if they might be hard to hear. Ask her if she would be willing to let you talk and explain your feeling without interrupting? Ask her if she knows that you love and respect her? Ask her if she knows you want to have a great relationship with her and for you both to be happy?
Wait for a yes to each question.
5. Speak your truth about how you feel — but focus on how you would like to be treated. Don’t focus on her past behavior. Focus on the solution, not the problem.
6. Ask if she would be willing to honor how you feel about this.
These validating conversations can resolve most issues, but if your spouse gets defensive too easy or won’t talk to you, you may want to try the sneaky approach below.
Here are a couple more principles of truth:
Principle 3: You cannot change someone else. No amount of nagging or begging will work. The more you try to change them, the more they will dig in and defend their current behavior.
Principle 4: If you treat someone as their highest best self, they will often change themselves to live up to your high opinion of them.
You cannot change your spouse, but you can influence her in a way that will encourage her to change herself. If she changes herself — everyone wins.
Here is how it works:
Figure out how you would like this person to behave and thank him or her for behaving this way as often as you can.
1. Think about how you would like your spouse to treat you. What would she be like if she lived up to her potential as a wife? Write these qualities down on paper.
2. Then write down how you would treat her differently if she behaved like this. What would you say to her and how would you treat her?
3. Start doing those things and saying those things right now.
Thank her every day for respecting you and making you feel valued. Thank her for building you up in front of other people, even if she isn’t doing it.
(This is not lying — this is reminding her of the good person she has the potential to be.) Show her you see the wonderful woman she is.
4. When you do this, people tend to want to live up to your high opinion of them. It is amazing how quickly their behavior changes.
Both these approaches require you to step it up and behave with wisdom, maturity and love. Your carnal nature won't want to handle it this way. It will encourage behavior that feels good but is stupid, immature and selfish.
Don't listen to it.
Your spouse is in your life to help you grow and learn. She will be your greatest teacher, and you will learn some amazing lessons from solving this situation with love ... you can do it.
Kimberly Giles is the founder and president of www.ldslifecoaching.com and www.claritypointcoaching.com. She is a life coach and speaker. She is available for church and community events.
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Kimberly Giles is the president and founder of Claritypoint Life Coaching and 12 SHAPES INC. She is an author and professional speaker. She was named one of the top 20 advice gurus in the country by Good Morning America in 2010. She appears regularly on local and national TV and Radio.