Rules for Fair Fighting: Rule #7

Rev. Deb Koster

September 6, 2018

FAIR FIGHTING RULE #7: Start Softly 

How well do you receive constructive criticism? How well do you offer it? 

There will be times in all marriages when one spouse needs to challenge the other. But how we address hurtful or inconsistent behavior is crucial. If we start with a critical spirit that is angry, blaming, nagging, and negative, it’s going to have a damaging impact on our conversation and relationship.

 Constructive criticism requires the right motivation and context. If you approach your spouse’s behavior from your own perspective, just because you want things done your way, it’s easy for negativism to creep into your relationship. 

But criticism can be given well when you lovingly call your spouse to accountability by following a few, simple rules. Use “I” statements that describe your experience, rather than “you” accusations that condemn your partner from the beginning. Address behaviors (when you do this, or that), not character (you’re so mean, or dumb, or lazy). Practice this model: “In this situation, when you do that behavior, I feel….” For example, “When we’re on the freeway with the kids, when you drive fast, I feel unsafe.” That’s a much more productive approach than attacking with “You’re a terrible driver!” 

Giving criticism in love can lead to transformation, but criticism apart from love is merely condemnation. Ephesians 4:15 tell us, “Speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is Christ.”

So how do we make sure we are receiving criticism well? It’s natural to want to get defensive and justify what we did, but we really need someone to challenge us to reach a greater potential. Choose to take criticism as information and evaluate what is true that you can work on changing. Proverbs 15:13 tells us, “He who listens to life giving rebuke will be at home among the wise.”

It can be hard to hear that we need to do better, but receiving criticism is very healthy and our spouse has the greatest opportunity to encourage us to be better. We will glorify God if we start softly and constructively and seek to build the relationship.

About the author — Rev. Deb Koster

Deb Koster is a producer, writer, and speaker for Family Fire. She is also an Innkeeper at The Parsonage Inn in Grand Rapids, MI where she leads marriage retreat on weekends. After over 20 years as a Registered Nurse, she completed a Master of Divinity degree and was ordained as a pastor in the Christian Reformed Church. Deb and her husband Steven enjoy doing ministry together and they are the parents of three awesome young adults.

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