One of marriage’s greatest gifts is the gift of feedback. Through providing one another with constructive feedback, we can grow into the best version of ourselves.
Being married is a lot like looking into a mirror that reflects back the best and worst parts of us. On one hand, we share our life with someone who can support and encourage our strongest qualities. On the other, that same person can make us aware of places where we fall short so we can course-correct when we need to.
The trick with feedback is knowing when and how to give it–particularly when we’re addressing a behavior in our spouse that makes us cringe or negatively affects the people around us. Today, we’re addressing a few ways you can provide your spouse with feedback when they’re not exactly functioning up to their highest potential.
Attention- and approval-seeking behaviors
Sometimes our spouses seem like two different people at home versus at a social gathering. Maybe you see one version of them at home…but when you’re among friends, family members, or co-workers, you observe unsettling behaviors, like:
- A know-it-all attitude
- A flirty demeanor
- A “life of the party” or “comedian” act
- A snarky attitude bordering on meanness
Before you say something to your spouse, try to get inside their head. Sometimes, we take on a specific social persona because we’re feeling insecure. Maybe we’ve received some reinforcement in the past that made us see ourselves in a certain way socially…when that’s not truly the heart of who we are.
We lean on attention- and approval-seeking behaviors when we have a deep need for reassurance, love, and acceptance. If your spouse appears to be starved for attention or approval, it’s important to realize that something isn’t right.
Let’s say your spouse acts a know-it-all around your friends or family, and it humiliates you. You find yourself trying to mediate their behavior because it’s painful for you to see them leaving a bad impression on others. But in situations like these, remember that your spouse is going to experience consequences for the way they behave–and sometimes consequences are the best catalysts for positive change.
One of the most profound consequences is that know-it-all behavior is a conversation shut-down. People simply aren’t drawn to conversations with a know-it-all. That’s because people feel the most loved and heard when we’re asking them questions about themselves, truly listening, and striving to understand who they are. If we’re focused on convincing them that we’re the smartest person in the room instead, they’re going to be turned off.
Next time you and your spouse are preparing to go to a social gathering, you might try saying something like, “You know, the people we’re going to be with tonight will feel great when we leave if you spend some time trying to understand what they know.” Encourage your spouse to ask them questions, listen to them, and help them feel important and heard.
You could also gently nudge your spouse to let their “normal” persona show when you’re at a gathering. Try saying something like, “You don’t act like that when it’s just the two of us. You know, I don’t need you to know everything–in fact, I feel better when you don’t because that makes me feel like we’re truly peers.”
Invite your spouse into vulnerability, too. Ask them to speak into your life about the impressions they observe you leaving on others. What things does your spouse pick up in you that you may not be aware of? This might open doors for you to reciprocate. Just remember to speak the truth gently, and in love. It’s hard to receive critical feedback, even if it’s constructive.
Quirks and oddities
Sometimes when we’re dating our future spouses, we can be blind to their odd or quirky behaviors. But once we’ve settled into everyday married life, those quirks grab our attention, full-force. They grate on our nerves…and what’s worse, other people notice them, too. And maybe friends or family have even mentioned some of these quirks to you (to your embarrassment).
The first thing you need to remember is that quirky habits are unconscious. We don’t realize we’re doing them (and we definitely don’t realize we’re annoying anyone else). Being blind to our quirks is blissful because we don’t have to understand how our oddities come off to others.
If your spouse has quirks that get under your skin, it’s common to have a strong urge to “help” them eliminate these quirks. But this is destructive for both you and your spouse. Instead, you’re going to want to empty yourself of the need to change them.
When you release yourself from trying to change your spouse’s behavior, that behavior can actually turn out to be something that endears them to you. We know it sounds strange, especially if this is a habit that makes you want to scream right now. But trust us–you’ll be surprised at the dramatic shift you see when you stop trying to be in control of the things that annoy you.
Even though you might stop trying to gain control over your spouse’s quirks, there are still ways to clue them in to the things they’re doing when you’re in public. Some habits, in particular, can be highly embarrassing in front of other people, and there’s nothing wrong with cluing your spouse in when they start displaying them. You can even come up with a code, like a light touch on the knee, when your spouse slips into the habit in public.
Most importantly, give one another grace. No one is perfect, and we all have qualities that are less than savory from time to time (some of them are just more apparent than others). When you approach one another with love, we have the greatest chance of acting as the best possible version of ourselves.
Does your spouse have a cringe-worthy behavior you’ve learned to address together? What is it? We’d love to hear from you in the comments section.