Maybe you know a guy like me. Maybe you are one. Maybe you are married to one.
I’ve had a significant number of people in my life who were in position to be critical of me. When I say someone was critical, I mean that they complained often or without kindness so that I felt like I was being personally attacked. And, frankly, I’ve found that there are a large number of people who are perfectly willing to be critical when they experience something with me that they don’t like – or that they are convinced they could do better. Whether for my role as a student, preacher, pastoral care provider, husband, athlete, teacher, marriage coach, driver, dad or writer – I’ve heard many complaints. Sometimes these complaints turned to criticism, so I have received my fair share of that. If I piled it all up, it would be a big pile.
But guys like me have ability – I believe ability planted in our DNA by our creator – to dismiss the criticism of a significant number of people. We can actually hear the criticism and the only way it impacts us, is it makes us believe that the person who criticized us is an idiot. Let me clarify. It doesn’t mean the critic is an idiot – it just means that we think he is.
Just go with me for a few minutes, OK? If you are irritated that I would think that way, if you think I’m coming across arrogantly, criticize me later and I’ll show you how it works. Right now, just let me express this in the way I think it will be most helpful.
Guys like me can consider a critic an idiot if he or she has no clue about my role and experience. This was a major advantage in ministry. When someone criticized my ministry, but used language like “when you are not in your role as minister” or “regular work hours,” I could dismiss their criticism. “They don’t have a clue,” I could say. When I said that to myself, I was giving myself permission to put a barrier between their words and my heart so that I didn’t get hurt.
Guys like me can consider a critic an idiot if all we hear from this person is criticism. If someone can’t say something positive about what they see in me, then eventually their “words of correction” will bounce off. This is important! This critic is often someone who had my ear at one time, but has turned so negative from my perspective, that I don’t give any weight to their words. “All I hear from them is criticism,” I could say. When I said that to myself, I was giving myself permission to put a barrier between their words and my heart so that I didn’t get hurt.
Husbands, are you married to one of these critics? Do you feel like your wife is constantly complaining about your performance in your various roles? Have you been saying to yourself regarding your wife, “She doesn’t have a clue about me”? Have you been saying, “She can’t say anything positive”? If you have been, let me beg you, don’t put her with the group of people you consider idiots because of their criticism. I know your favorite Proverb for this scenario is “Better to live in a desert than with a quarrelsome and nagging wife” (Prov. 21:19). But let me give you one that you need more: “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it” (Prov. 4:23). Keep your heart from becoming cold toward your wife. Forgive her just as God, in Christ, has forgiven you (Eph 4:32). Remember, we all stumble in many ways (James 3:2). You do, and your wife does. Criticism might just be her struggle that isn’t a temptation for you. You know that you have some struggles that aren’t temptations for her. Step closer to her, deliberately, just as Jesus stepped closer to us when we were his enemies. Don’t allow yourself to grow bitter or resentful. Love her, though you feel she doesn’t deserve it, as if you are loving her “unto Christ.”
Wives, your man has allowed your words to have an impact on his heart? He doesn’t let everybody’s criticism impact him, but he listens to you. In fact, your words often impact him more than those of anybody else in his life. You should know, that if your criticism could make him believe he is an idiot, it likely will make him say that to himself. You criticize and he thinks to himself, “I’m an idiot.” Often, he will change. He’ll correct the behavior about which you complained. At least he will try.
But if you continue your criticism in an unkind way, or if you criticize him without knowing his struggles or his perspective, or if you criticize him so often that he feels you have nothing positive to say, he will quit saying, “I’m an idiot” and he’ll start saying that you are. His responses to your criticism will not lead to repentance. His response will be one of anger, coldness, and ultimately hopelessness.
When does that shift happen in the heart of a man? That varies with the man. The time for you to change is now. Apologize to him, without having to say why you feel your criticism is justified. Tell him that you respect him. Become his number one encourager instead of his number one critic.