Negative feedback is something we unfortunately have to encounter throughout our lives, in many different areas.
We receive it from teachers, professors, bosses, family, friends, sports coaches, and sometimes even strangers.
But negative feedback is never harder to hear than when it comes from our spouse.
Because our spouse is the person we love the most. We rely on them to make us feel loved and safe.
And hearing criticism from them can feel like that love is being threatened. It can feel like we are being attacked – making us feel defensive and vulnerable.
Therefore, it is easy to lash out in return and start shooting down our spouse’s point of view.
For instance, saying things like “You’re wrong”, “No I don’t”, or throwing an accusation back at your spouse; “Well you always do…!”
This can quickly escalate, with both spouses fighting pain with pain.
It is fair to say that sometimes our spouses could be gentler in the way they point out our flaws.
But the thing is, usually when we receive negative feedback from our spouse, it is because he or she is needing our love and attention.
Negative feedback always comes from somewhere – more often than not it is because our spouse is feeling that one of their needs is not being met.
Therefore, when receiving any type of criticism, it is important to try and understand what your spouse’s needs, wants or concerns are behind the feedback they have given you.
It’s important to realize that giving you negative feedback doesn’t mean your spouse doesn’t love you – in fact, it means that they CARE enough about your relationship to want to make it better.
And the reason that we can have such a hard time accepting criticism from them is that deep down, we are fearful of losing the connection with our spouses.
But the point to remember is that learning how to take negative feedback from our spouses on board in a constructive way is only going to IMPROVE the health and stability of our relationships.
Because when we react with defensiveness and anger to the things we don’t want to hear, we actually drive a wedge between ourselves and our spouses.
You will be amazed at what it can do for your relationship if instead of reacting like this, you pause, take a breath, calm yourself and consider things from your spouse’s point of view before you reply.
Taking responsibility for your actions requires maturity and inner strength, but it is a very attractive quality.
You have a CHOICE in how you react. You may not be able to change your spouse, but you can make decisions to change your OWN responses, which may influence your spouse to follow suit.
Learning to handle negative feedback from your spouse with understanding, calmness and respect is not easy, but it does get easier with practice. And it will be well worth it for your marital relationship.
How to handle receiving negative feedback from your spouse:
1. Drop your defenses.
Although you may have an initial emotional reaction (this is perfectly natural and okay), force yourself to stop before you ACT on this emotion.
Instead, take some deep breaths and allow yourself to calm down enough for the rational part of your mind to take over.
2. Assess whether you think the feedback is true.
Think rationally about what your spouse has said. Can you see any truth to their criticism?
Try to see the issue from both yours and your spouse’s viewpoints.
Decide whether you honestly agree with the feedback your spouse has given you, or whether you have reason to disagree.
3. Reply to your spouse with respect.
Whether or not you agree with what your spouse has said, it’s important to reply to them with respect and to validate rather than invalidate their point of view.
Your spouse’s feelings and viewpoints are REAL to them, even if they are not the same as yours.
So in your reply, you first should always reiterate your spouse’s concerns or criticism to show that you understand what they have communicated to you.
For example, “So you’ve been feeling neglected because I have been arriving home later than I said I would be?”
Your spouse will confirm to you whether this is what they were meaning.
Next you need to let your spouse know your point of view, whether you agree or disagree, with a clear explanation of why you feel this way (again, do this will respect and love).
If you agree with what they are saying, say something like “I’m sorry. You’re right”, “I understand”, “I’m sorry I hurt you”.
Then back this up with a statement such as “I will try to stop doing…”
Even if you disagree with your spouse’s criticism, you can still say that you understand your spouse’s point of view and are sorry that they felt hurt.
Just be sure not to BLAME your spouse in this process.
If you feel that your behavior has been a RESULT of something your spouse have been doing, apologize for your own behavior first.
Then gently and respectively use “I” statements to explain how you feel this behavior was brought on through one of your own needs not being met.
4. Have an open discussion and come up with a way to move forward.
Discuss the issue with your spouse in a calm and open way until you come to a conclusion and way to move forward.
What could be done differently in the future to make sure that the same issue does not come up again?
If something you’ve done has hurt or offended your spouse, it is a good idea to actually ASK your spouse what they need from you in future in order to feel loved.
For instance; “What could I do differently in future to make you feel respected and loved?”
Your spouse will feel honored by the fact that you care enough to want to understand how you can meet their specific needs. Because the needs of any two people are never quite the same.
5. Re-connect with your spouse.
After a discussion which may have left both you and your spouse feeling emotional and vulnerable, it’s important to soothe one another and reconnect.
Reach out and give your spouse a hug or a kiss, or put your arm around their shoulder. These acts of affection signal that everything is okay between you and help to close any distance between you.
The goal is to leave this discussion feeling even closer to your spouse than before.
6. Recognize that being able to share negative feedback is a positive quality of your marriage.
Whenever you’re reflecting on any negative feedback, remember that it is actually a great thing to be able to receive negative feedback from your spouse and for your spouse to be able to receive it from you.
A strong marriage is one in which each person feels comfortable enough to express their views and needs to one another, with the belief that they will be listened to.
As mentioned above, when your spouse shares this feedback with you, it shows that they WANT to be happy in this marriage with you, even if things aren’t perfect right now.
Your spouse wants to feel loved and appreciated by you. Isn’t that worth something?
Remember, none of us are perfect. And when you get two imperfect people sharing their lives, there is bound to be the odd roadblock along the way.
And if you can accept negative feedback from your spouse and turn it into something positive, then they are much more likely to do the same when the tables are turned.
Negative feedback is always an opportunity for growth. Taking it on board allows you to not only grow as a person, but also to grow stronger in your relationship.
7. GIVE negative feedback with respect and care.
Next time you have negative feedback to give to your SPOUSE, show them the same respect and consideration you would like to receive.
Remember to wait until you and your spouse are alone – criticizing them in front of others will be extremely hurtful and will be more likely to amplify the problem rather than make it better.
Let your spouse know that you love them through words of love or physical affection (or both).
Give them YOUR full attention and wait until you also have theirs (ask for their attention if need be).
Calm your emotions to the point where you are using the logical part of your mind when you are talking to your spouse – rather than attacking him or her with a wave of emotion (such as anger, resentment or frustration).
When you take this gentle, respectful approach, your spouse is much less likely to REACT with emotion.
Explain your concern or complaint to your spouse, using “I” statements where possible – rather than ‘blaming’ statements.
For instance; “Babe, I’ve been feeling a bit unwanted lately because we never seem to spend much time doing things together when we’re both at home. It seems like you’re always busy. I really miss having fun and laughing with you. I need your time and affection to feel loved and sexy again.”
If you can learn to always bring up negative feedback with your spouse in this gentle, considerate way, hopefully your spouse will follow your example when they have something to bring up.
Do you have problems with communicating and receiving negative feedback in your marriage?
Please share your experiences below.
As always, thank you for reading and I hope this advice has been helpful for you!