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You’ve heard them. That friend, relative, or coworker of yours who is continually bad-mouthing their spouse. It may sound like they are just joking, but there is usually a tinge of truth to the words they say and they want you to know it.
They are trying to draw you into the conversation and make you share all the bad stuff about your spouse too. They want to hear that your spouse is just as bad as theirs.
Don’t let them pull you down with them. Criticizing your spouse in public is a dangerous road to explore. It’s not just harmless banter with your friends.
One of the mindsets for a successful marriage is the mindset of preference or the “my spouse is the most awesome person ever” mindset. When you talk about your spouse in public, you expose the level of preference you have for them. If you speak well of them, you make it obvious to the people you talk to that your spouse is indeed your favorite person. You let your friends know that you love your spouse and that they are the person you would rather spend the most time with.
However, when you talk negatively about your spouse to others, whether you know it or not, you are indicating to your friends that he is not acceptable to you in some way. You are not showing any preference for your spouse over others.
How Criticizing your Spouse Affects Your Relationship
When we were little, one of the sayings we learned was “Sticks and stones will break my bones, but names will never hurt me.” My mother told me to say that all the time. As adults, we know that is not true. The words that people speak to us and about us can cause a great deal of emotional damage.
The Bible reinforces this idea with the words found in Proverbs 18:21. NIV
The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit. Proverbs 18:21. NIV
I like the way this verse reads in the Message version of the Bible. It makes the results of our words even more obvious.
Words kill, words give life; they’re either poison or fruit—you choose. Proverbs 18:21. MSG
What are the negative consequences that criticizing your spouse has on your marriage? First of all, any negative thoughts and words about your spouse help Satan get a stronghold in your mind. It is his favorite battlefield, and if we make even the tiniest opening available for him to come in, he’ll be there. He wants to destroy your marriage, and the fastest way to do it is through your mind.
You will get more of the things you don’t like in your marriage. When you speak poorly of your spouse on a regular basis, those thoughts become so ingrained in your mind that you will be subconsciously on the lookout for more bad behavior to prove yourself right. Even if it’s not actually happening more, you will see it more, and that will continue a downward spiral.
They Will Find Out
It doesn’t matter who you share these negative things with; it is a form of betrayal to your marriage. Part of a great marriage is knowing that the other person has your back and that you are going to protect their vulnerabilities and weaknesses from public scrutiny.
Understand that those negative words you say about your spouse WILL get back to them. Your friends will either let something slip to the wrong person or deliberately confront your spouse to let them know they don’t like their behavior.
Once your spouse hears what you have been saying about them, the life will drain out of them as Proverbs 18:21 says. And hearing that you discussed problems you have with someone else instead of them will reduce the level of trust in your marriage. These two effects can lead to serious marital issues if you don’t address them.
It affects those around them
Talking badly about your spouse destroys their character and reputation in your church, community, or family. Other people will never see them in the same way as they did before you aired your dirty laundry. Your friends will take your side over his and may even give you bad advice about the future you have together.
Finally, even though it’s not a direct result on your relationship, talking badly about your spouse shows your children the wrong way to do marriage and teaches them to settle for someone who doesn’t treat them with respect. If you want your children to choose their future spouses wisely, you have to model what is and is not acceptable.
Complaining about your spouse to your friends gives you an outlet to get things off your chest, but ends up hurting your relationship because you don’t address the issue directly with them. These small problems you bury will fester and eventually explode onto the surface.
Benefits of Speaking Well
The verse in Proverbs also says that there is life in your words, and the advantages speaking well of your spouse will give your relationship are limitless.
You get more of that behavior
When you say positive things to and about your spouse, you will see the things you love about them will more often. Everyone likes to be appreciated and hear good things about themselves. It makes them feel loved and important. Since those feelings affect the way we think, they are more likely to do them. By acknowledging and being genuinely thankful for the great things your partner brings to your marriage, you are encouraging them to show these things more often.
It changes your mindset
The more you acknowledge the excellent characteristics of your spouse, it will begin to change the way you automatically think about them. It improves your mindset. When your mindset is more positive, you will notice more of the positive things you love about them.
In teaching, we called that the self-fulfilling prophecy. Whatever you think of someone else, it’s going to be true. At least in your mind.
It reduces temptation
Talking about your spouse in a positive light reduces temptation. When you speak well of your spouse and do it often, you let those of the opposite sex know that you are happy in your relationship and there is no room for anyone else in your life. It’s like adultery repellent.
This scenario happened to me years ago in a much less dramatic way when I was in college. Even though I wasn’t married yet, you could guarantee I did a lot of talking about the man who became my husband. I had a male friend say, “I thought about asking you out, but you talked so much about Dan, I knew I didn’t have a chance.” How much more will that keep people at arm’s length when they might be considering making a move on you?
Positivity models God’s plan for marriage to the world. The world does not have a favorable view of marriage. Most people have been conditioned to believe that a marriage cannot last, and if it does, there’s no way it could be happy. When they hear us sharing the great things our spouses bring to our marriages, it lets them know that the world’s view of marriage isn’t valid and that they too can have a marriage worth celebrating.
Share the Good
When it comes to sharing good things about your spouse, there are many different places to do it, both publicly and privately.
Share the good about your spouse with your kids so that they can base their future marriages off of a solid one. Tell your parents how great they are. Don’t give your parents a reason to dislike your spouse. They may not forgive as quickly as you do. Tell your family, friends, and coworkers all about your partner’s incredible characteristics. Hopefully, they will say, as some have to me, “She got one of the good ones.”
The need for spreading the word about your spouse’s great qualities doesn’t end when you get home. You need to continually remind yourself about their great qualities so you can keep a positive mindset about them. Pray for them that they would let these traits shine every day.
Most importantly, tell them what you love about them. Thank your spouse for the things they do every day that add value to your marriage. In the same way as negative words can drain life, positivity will bring life. The more you pour life into your spouse through your words, the better your marriage will get.
How to Stop Criticizing Your Spouse
Deciding to stop speaking negatively about your spouse all at once is not easy. It’s not an instant fix. There’s no such thing as a microwave that takes away habits in under a minute. Learning to speak life to your spouse is more like cooking in a crock pot. It takes longer but generally produces a better result.
Here are a few quick tips to reduce the negative talking:
- Don’t let stuff build up. If you are upset about something, find a good time and talk about it like adults. The emotions will only take over more and more.
- Don’t attack the other person or blame them for all the problems in your marriage.
- Drop your pride and do what is best for your marriage. You can’t always have your own way.
A Challenge for You
Is speaking well of your spouse something you need to work on? Do you and your spouse realize you could be more positive about one another? Whether it’s just you, or you want to fix this problem together, here’s a challenge that will help.
- If you are both doing the challenge, then each of you should read this post. Then discuss it together.
- Write a list of positive attributes your spouse possesses.
- Make a commitment to only talk well of each other in public and in private for the next week.
- Each day make a point to acknowledge a strong point in public and in private, even if you are angry or hurt.
- Journal about your experience that day. If it was hard to keep your promise, why was that? What can you learn from any problems you had.
After the week is up, it should become a little more natural to only speak well of your spouse to them and others. But keep going! It will get more comfortable and more natural as time goes on.
Find someone to help you if this is an area where you and your spouse struggle. You may want to consider enrolling in one of our marriage coaching programs. We can help you get through this issue. Find out more about coaching on our Services page by clicking here!