I have a confession: I’m critical.
And oh, my goodness, do I hate this about myself. I’m an Enneagram Type 1, high-achieving, and judgmental perfectionist. I’m hardest on myself, but I’m also hard on those closest to me in relationships.
It’s been a hard year for my family. My husband has been in and out of work for over a year, I’ve been teaching middle school students both online and in-person simultaneously since August. We have twin toddlers who are in the middle of potty training (groan), AND until two weeks ago, I was working on my master’s degree.
With all the stress of COVID and our life circumstances, I’ve found myself struggling to be positive about my marriage. My husband has probably been the number one recipient of my angsty judgment and impatient condemnations, but the advice here could be applied to anyone in your life, from your mother-in-law to your boss.
Here are four steps to help you be less critical in your relationships and have a more positive outlook:
1. Silence the inner critic
There have been numerous times lately that I find myself thinking about my husband’s short comings: “He never picks up after himself. He just plops the twins in front of the TV instead of playing with them when I’m gone. Why am I the only one who cleans the bathrooms?” To be honest, it gets ugly really quickly. I find myself grinding my teeth, letting minor infractions get under my skin in a major way.
I’ve noticed (and science supports) the idea that your thoughts and feeling impact your behavior. When I spend half a day stewing over the things I wish were different in my husband and our marriage, I’m much quicker to snap at him and escalate annoyances into full-blown arguments.
Instead, practice shutting down the negative, nagging critic who dwells on those imperfections (because you have them, too!), and refuse to give them space in your head. Catch yourself when your thoughts start to go down that road, take a deep breath, and change your thoughts.
2. Think positive thoughts
This strategy is the necessary next step after shutting down those critical thoughts. When you’ve caught yourself spiraling down that negative road, immediately replace those notions with something positive, however small.
- “He mopped the floor last night and I didn’t even have to ask.”
- “He got the girls out of bed this morning and got them milk so I could lie in bed a bit longer.”
- “He always shares with me what he’s learning from Church or his quiet time.”
There is saying that goes, “What you feed, grows.” By feeding those positive thoughts, eventually those will become the bigger and louder voice in your marriage by far.
3. Pray FOR others
Notice that I wrote pray FOR others, not pray ABOUT others. Have you ever caught yourself praying something along the lines of, “Jesus, if he would only be more patient… If she would only listen when I’m speaking, then….” Those are not the prayers I mean.
Instead, focus on praying for their relationship with Christ, that it would grow deeper and richr or that they would come to know Jesus as Savior. Pray for their heart, that they would know and feel the love the Father has for them. Pray for them as a father or mother, not what they could do better, but that they would enjoy their children and be blessed by them. You’ll begin to see a deep and profound spiritual shift as you spend intentional time bringing others before the Lord.
4. Make a List
No, not the kind of “Here’s all the reasons they suck” list you may be thinking. Make a list of all the reasons you find that you’re thankful that he’s the man you’ve married or that she’s the co-worker you have in the cubical next to yours. Add to it frequently as you find more ideas. The more you look for reasons to be thankful, the more reasons you will find!
Overall, remember Paul’s advice in Philippians 4:8: “…Whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.”