Bring it to Barb

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Dear Barb,

Since I have been home with my wife every minute of the day due to the coronavirus, I noticed that my wife’s criticism has become nonstop. It seems I “talk too much.” Even if it is true, that really hurt my feelings. I try not to criticize my wife about things, but when I do, she gets very defensive. What is the best way to point out something that is true without causing hurt feelings? 

Signed,

Too Talkative  

Dear Too Talkative,

Often we are immobilized by the slightest criticism! We treat it like an emergency and defend ourselves as if we were in a battle. In truth, criticism is nothing more than an observation by another person about us, our actions or the way we think about something that doesn’t match the vision that we have of ourselves. 

When we react with a knee-jerk defense response and we feel attacked, we often offer a counter-criticism. We can fill our minds with angry or hurtful thoughts directed at the person who was critical, but all this reaction takes an enormous amount of mental energy. 

Instead, give this strategy a try. Agree with the criticism directed toward you! I am not saying to be a doormat or ruin your self-esteem by believing all negativity that comes in your direction. I am suggesting that simply agreeing with criticism defuses the situation; it satisfies a person’s need to express a point of view, and offers you a chance to learn something about yourself by seeing a grain of truth in another position. Exercising the skill of remaining calm and responding, “You’re right, I do talk too much sometimes,” can change the whole dynamic of the rest of your day with your wife.

Reacting to criticism never makes the criticism go away. In fact, negative reactions to criticism often convince the person doing the criticizing that they are accurate in their assessment of you.

Big deal if someone has an incorrect or critical view of you! Remember, there are many things about ourselves that we sometimes don’t even know about ourselves. I think you will discover that agreeing with an occasional criticism from your wife has more value than cost. Those closest to you will sometimes tell you the truth that others will not. 

Don’t fear self reflection. Think of it as identifying a flat tire that needs to be filled up. You wouldn’t put air in a tire if you never thought it needed air. 

Keeping busy doing separate things such as hobbies, projects at home, even surfing the internet will be a distraction from the temptations of viewing each other with a critical eye and avoid any potential hurt feelings. Criticism is only an opinion; it doesn’t mean it’s necessarilytrue. 

Barb Rock is a mental health counselor and the published author of “Run Your Own Race: Happiness after 50.” Send any questions related to mental health, relationships or life issues to her at BarbRockrocks@yahoo.com.

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