Sometimes a great parenting technique works wonders in marriage, too. Not that we should treat our spouses like children—we shouldn’t. But it’s more a reflection that children’s needs are in fact human needs. A need recognized in children often exists in adults as well.
Case in point, Seattle marriage therapist Claire Hatch, LICSW, recently wrote “Marriage Advice You Can Learn from Your Kids.” Her advice struck a chord with me both in how I should interact with my children and with my spouse, particularly when expressing a problem or complaint.
She explains that a child who thinks she is “bad” is not going to be interested in self-improvement. Instead, when she is treated like a “bad girl” or criticized, “she has to raise her defensive walls high to protect her ego from messages that feel critical. Which means she’s not really listening to you.”
That comment was a strong reminder to me that the way in which we complain or criticize may in fact be closing the other person off to us. We may be ensuring that they don’t listen to us, which is of course the opposite of what we want. Bad feelings may turn into hopelessness and a lack of motivation to change.
On the other hand, if the child feels loved and accepted, she can relax that defensive wall and hear you out. Your suggestions just might make it through that wall.
While our spouse is hopefully more emotionally mature than a child, he or she still has the need to feel appreciated, accepted and loved. But when we’re upset, we don’t communicate any of these. (Well, maybe you’re better than I am.) We usually just focus on our criticism or complaint.
What your spouse might conclude when hearing regular criticism is “I can’t make her happy,” or even “I’m a failure as a husband,” says Hatch. While you need to address issues in marriage, you’ll be much more effective in getting your spouse to listen if your loving messages outweigh your critical messages, she adds.
Her ideas for you to try to soften criticism include:
1. Verbalize appreciation regularly so the criticism comes off as less harsh.
2. Be curious and invested in what is on your partner’s to-do list, supporting and helping him or her as a loving spouse.
3. When raising a complaint, verbalize the difficulties you recognize your spouse faces.
What do you think? Are there other parenting tricks that you use in your marriage?
Lori Lowe is the author of First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage. It tells the inspiring, true stories of couples who used adversity to improve their marriages–from overcoming drug addiction to cancer, infidelity, religious differences, family interference and infertility, among many others. It’s available at Amazon.com and in various e-book formats here.