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Sometimes I would like to tell my spouse something that he should know, but he would be offended by it. What’s the best way to do this?
This is a tricky question because while there are things that are important to tell your spouse, there are also things that are better left unsaid. Don’t misunderstand me. I believe in honesty. I also believe in respect. Every virtue needs a companion virtue to temper it.
If you have a sense that your husband won’t respond well to what you believe he needs to know, it’s a good idea to slow down and evaluate why he might have a negative response. I’ve worked with individuals who felt they should let their partner know they’re not attractive or some other criticism of their appearance. They believed that they needed to be honest and not hold back from how they really feel. I’m not sure how comments like this can be helpful to a marriage.
Hopefully you’re not guilty of the “Grapefruit Syndrome”, based on an article in a 1993 issue of the Ensign where the author thought it would be a good idea to catalog each other’s faults as newlyweds. Her list of complaints for her husband included how he peeled and ate grapefruits like an orange. Much to her shock, he didn’t have any complaints about her. She learned an important lesson that day that cataloging our partner’s faults and sharing them does nothing to strengthen a marriage.[i]
There are plenty of important things we need to hear from our partners that aren’t always easy to hear. I’ve certainly been on the receiving end of important feedback about my behavior and character that have helped me improve my relationships. I am grateful for the courage of friends, family, clients, and colleagues who have lovingly given me direct feedback. Elder Todd D. Christofferson taught important truths about how to give and receive correction in a recent General Conference. I recommend you study his words to gain a fuller perspective on whether or not what you want to share is worth sharing.[ii]
While I want to be the kind of person who is open to feedback regardless of who gives it, I do think the quality of the relationship is the most important factor in how feedback is received. Feedback from a stranger honking his horn will be taken very differently than my wife’s concerns about how I drive the car.
Assess the quality of your relationship with your husband and see if your heart is in the right place. Do you simply want to pick him apart, or is this feedback that is getting in the way of an important relationship? Is it something that is in his best interest, or is it simply annoying to you?
If your husband feels loved and supported by you, it’s likely he can handle any feedback you need to give him. If you have a relationship that isn’t emotionally safe and secure, it won’t matter what you bring up or how you bring it up. Your motives will be met with suspicion.
I recognize that if your husband is a closed and defensive person, your efforts to help him out won’t do much good. I’m simply asking you to do everything you can to make sure your heart is right. People aren’t willing to change until we meet them where they are. And, once we meet them there, we often don’t feel need to change them.
Check your motives and check your heart. If you have something important to share that will benefit your marriage and family, then share it. Share it knowing that your love for him and your family is what brings forth your courage. Nobody likes to be criticized. Loving feedback can make a difference for us if it comes from someone who truly has our best interest at heart.
Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at firstname.lastname@example.org
About the Author
Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in St. George, UT. He is the owner of Alliant Counseling and Education (www.alliantcounseling.com) and the founding director of LifeStar of St. George, an outpatient treatment program for couples and individuals impacted by pornography and sexual addiction (www.lifestarstgeorge.com). He is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, available at Deseret Book, and the audio series “Strengthening Recovery Through Strengthening Marriage”, available at www.marriage-recovery.com. He also writes a weekly relationship column for the St. George News (www.stgnews.com). He holds a bachelors degree from BYU in communications studies and a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy from Auburn University. He served a full-time mission to the Dominican Republic. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.