Receiving Negative Feedback

Negative feedback is never harder to hear than when it comes from our spouse. Because our spouse is the person we love the most. We rely on them to make us feel loved and safe.

Hearing criticism from them can feel like that love is being threatened. It can feel like we are being attacked – making us feel defensive and vulnerable. Therefore, it is easy to lash out in return and start shooting down our spouse’s point of view with defensiveness or counter-offenses.

It’s important to recognize that giving you negative feedback doesn’t mean your spouse doesn’t love you – in fact, it means that they CARE enough about your relationship to want to make it better. (Usually.)

Your relationship is most important. Don’t let this negative feedback derail that.

“I have a complaint; when is a good time to talk?”

“There is something on my mind; when is a good time?”

When you hear those words from your spouse, see it as an opportunity to learn what can enhance your relationship.

Set a time as soon as possible to have the conversation. Make sure it will be a time that you are calm with enough headspace and time to have a full conversation.

When your spouse shares negative feedback, a complaint, listen fully. No matter how hard it is to hear it.   Listen – with respect.

Respect your spouse’s need to share the feedback.

Bite your tongue.

  • Do not interrupt. Let him/her say it all.
  • Do not get defensive.

Ask questions.

  • Try to get to the underlying issue (ex: resentment, triggers a memory, need for change).
  • Try to understand their reasoning/ position. “This sounds important to you. Can you tell me why? I want to better understand.”
  • “Please tell me what’s going on for you right now and how you’re feeling?”

Respect.

  • Even if your spouse is sharing complaints about something you have or haven’t done, try to remain focused on what they are sharing and not on preparing a response or retort to what they have shared.
  • Even if they aren’t sharing it in the easiest way for you to hear it, respect their emotions and requests.  For the larger picture of a happy marriage.

You have a CHOICE in how you react. You can make decisions to change your OWN responses.

Although you may have an initial emotional reaction (this is perfectly natural and okay), force yourself to stop before you ACT on this emotion.

Take some deep breaths and allow yourself to calm down enough for the rational part of your mind to take over.

When you start listing all of the reasons why you should not be blamed for some misdeed, you signal to your spouse that you were only concerned with being vindicated and you are not at all concerned with your spouse’s feelings. This makes your spouse feel unheard and disregarded.

Defending yourself, whether by vehemently protesting your innocence or rightness or by turning the tables and attacking, escalates the fight.

When you feel defensive (ie: righteous indignation or hostility), this becomes a cue for your curiosity to kick in. There is usually some basis for the other person’s complaint. At least from their perspective. Ask for more information, details, and examples.

  • “What about what just happened brought this reaction?”
  • “This seems important to you, probably more than I understood. Please help me understand it better.”
  • “I’d like the opportunity to explain what happened from my perspective. But first I want to understand more about what is going on for you.”

When you meet a complaint with curiosity, you make room for understanding. With curiosity, you can enter into their reality and get further into their world.

Firstly, you will get more clarity into what is important to them and you will better understand them.

Secondly, you send the message that you really care about the other person.

DON’T

  • Rationalize
  • Make excuses
  • Justify what you did/said
  • Condone your actions
  • Give explanations
  • Deny
  • Contradict
  • Argue
  • Reject

Whether or not you agree with what your spouse has said, it’s important to reply to them with respect and to validate rather than invalidate their point of view. Your spouse’s feelings and viewpoints are REAL to them, even if they are not the same as yours.

It may not be easy, but it does get easier with practice. It will be well worth it for your marriage relationship.

Quite likely there  is at least a kernel of truth in what is shared.  At least from the way they see it.

Think rationally about what your spouse has said. Can you see any truth to their words? Try to see the issue from both yours and your spouse’s viewpoints.

Decide whether you honestly – deep down in your gut – agree with (at least something from) the feedback your spouse has given you, or whether you have reason to disagree.

Reflect/ Validate your spouse’s feelings.

  • In your reply, you first should always reiterate your spouse’s concerns or criticism to show that you understand what they have communicated to you. For example, “So you’ve been feeling neglected because I have been arriving home later than I said I would be?”

  • If you agree with what they are saying, say something like “I’m sorry. You’re right”, “I understand”, “I’m sorry I hurt you”. Then back this up with a statement such as “I will try to stop doing…”

  • Even if you disagree with your spouse’s words, you can still say that you understand your spouse’s point of view and are sorry that they felt hurt. “It makes sense that you’d feel that way …”

  • “I should have said/done that differently.” 
  • Your spouse will confirm to you whether this is what they were meaning.

Some of the most loving words are: “I didn’t realize that.”

Validate their feelings. Acknowledge that what you said or did brought up negative feelings.And then say, “I’m so glad you told me. I didn’t realize. Now that I know, I hope to do better.”

 

  • Just be sure not to BLAME your spouse in this process.
  • Even if you feel that your behavior has been a RESULT of something your spouse has been doing, apologize for your own behavior first.
  • Then gently and respectfully use “I” statements to explain how you feel this behavior was brought on through one of your own needs not being met.

Have an open discussion and come up with a way to move forward. 

Discuss the issue with your spouse in a calm and open way until you come to a conclusion and way to move forward.

You might ask for a solution. “When I am working late, what do you think we should do?” Wait for the answer.

If something you’ve done has hurt or offended your spouse, it is a good idea to actually ASK your spouse what they need from you in future in order to feel loved. “What could I do differently in future to make you feel respected and loved?”

Don’t promise something you won’t do or believe you shouldn’t have to. Continue to talk it through until you come to an agreement.

After a discussion which may have left both you and your spouse feeling emotional and vulnerable, it’s important to soothe one another and reconnect.

  • Reach out and signal that everything is okay between you and help close any distance between you.
  • The goal is to leave this discussion feeling even closer to your spouse than before.

Negative feedback is always an opportunity for growth. Taking it on board allows you to not only grow as a person, but also to grow stronger in your relationship.

Can I share my side of the story?

There is a time for silence, and a time to talk.

Of course, you can share the issue from your point of view. At the right time. In the right way.

Timing is very important.  Do not share your side of the story right in the  heat of the moment.

Most likely, it will not be received as well as you hope.  And quite possibly, you will not be calm enough to talk reasonably.

Do not appease someone when his anger is aroused.” Avos 4:18

You can let your spouse know your point of view, whether you agree or disagree, with a clear explanation of why you feel this way (again, do this with respect and love).

“I’d like to share how I see it.”, “This is how it seems from my position.”

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