1. The Ideal
A person who is under authority submits to the will of the leader. Unity in thought, purpose, and effort is achieved only as one leads out and the other submits to the leading. Together, as one, they work in cooperation doing what is now the will of both. There is no conflict, no occasion for criticism. This is the God-designed ideal in which husbands and wives are meant to relate within marriage (I Corinthians 11:3).
The natural advantages of this ideal can be viewed functioning in the world through such examples as the coordinated actions of the human body responding to the will of the brain, soldiers complying with their regimental leader in battle, and so forth. The principle is a tactic of order, and in direct opposition to chaos.
2. The Reality
From universal personal experience, we know that criticism can make the critical person seem unsafe to the recipient. It can be so distressing that it often makes it hard to perform at our best around the critic thereafter. And how much more so when that person is someone whose view of us is so vitally important to our existence, like our husbands!
During courtship, most people instinctively understand that unconditional love is the Holy Grail that all are seeking in a mate. (Never mind that unconditional love can only be found in Christ). We instinctively know better than to threaten the relationship with criticism during this period. Unfortunately, after marriage, the growing familiarity causes our inherent differences to become glaringly obvious. As the infatuation wears off, the verbal observation of these differences (i.e., “faults”) appears to constitute an immediate threat to the bond of attachment that we so desperately desire to preserve with our mate.
For this reason, the earliest period of a marriage - that time between the cooling of the “crush” and the building of real love through an investment of self - is when many marriages fail. Unless either mate’s criticism is delivered with considerable tact and restraint (probably much more the exception than the rule), most spouses experience painful feelings of withdrawn love, validation, and support. For wives in particular, the negative emotions of a prickled pride and the more subtle fear of abandonment make it very difficult for them to listen objectively to their husband’s remarks, calmly appraise them, and respond with all the strength of an “Iron Lady” Margaret Thatcher.
In addition, as sinfully self-centered humans, criticism, even well-intentioned criticism, is usually understood to be a direct assault on the ego, so it’s only normal to react far more emotionally than rationally. The unconditional love, which we all thought we would be receiving when we married, is now seemingly withdrawn, and thus our ability to return to an affectionate state has been undermined. For these reasons, criticism triggers an emotional sorrow akin to the loss of something particularly treasured, as in a death, so naturally it results in a painful grief.
Our self-love much prefers praise, which is often taken to be an expression of love; but all-in-all, neither praise nor criticism are genuine signs of love as it is defined in the embroidery on a pillow I once saw: “Love (luhv) (noun) A profoundly tender, passionate affection for another person; an ineffable feeling of warn personal attachment.” Service, loyalty, respect, nurture, and sharing are all markers of real love; praise and criticism are not.
It is important to note that a critical husband doesn’t usually engage his wife with malice aforethought. It is likely that his behavior, offensive as it may be, represents little more than his single-minded striving to get his own wants and needs met, thus, leaving him oblivious to its possible impact on their spouse. If a wife is honest though, she must confess that she is often like this, too. A selfish will is the hallmark of all humanity’s sin nature, so she can’t “throw any rocks around in her own glass house” - -
3. The Wife:
In truth, unless a woman marries herself, this little “death” of unconditional love is inevitable. All a godly wife can do in the face of her husband’s criticism is to battle the tendency toward bitterness, counter any reciprocal critical thoughts about him, and try to accept his “help” at face value. The Lord wants us to gain more than just an intuitive understanding of the value of humility and the danger of pride. Therefore, it may be that through our mate’s criticism, we may actually be viewing Him at work perfecting us. As I say this, I am reminded of my pastor’s extremely apt “rock polisher” metaphor for marriage, wherein the couple are the crude stones to be polished into gems, the added sandy grit represents the annoyances common to life, and the lubricating water is the Holy Spirit. All the parts mix and abraise each other in a polishing process that ultimately produces glowing jewels instead of rough rocks.
With this in mind as a metaphor for the process of spiritual growth, ask the Lord to help you take your eyes off the offense of the criticism and focus on the real markers of your husband's love, such as his provision for you, his enjoyment of your company, the fact that he considers your input seriously, etc. These are the true signposts of love.
4. The Husband:
As for the critical husband, he should know that the love he shows his wife needs to include a respect for her that understands that, as his wife, she is not him, nor an extension of him, or even some product that he ultimately needs to produce in conformation with himself. In a loving relationship, both mates need to understand that they are and will remain unique individuals, and they must learn how to mesh their desires with each other. A husband should be very circumspect in his criticism because those little “wins” will set back his wife’s affection for him and, therefore, her attachment to him - - something he dearly needs, too, because marriage is for a lifetime.
A man must also understand that experience is always the best teacher and that his wife will learn just as much from her mistakes, as he does from his.
5. The Couple:
If either mate seeks any modification that will assist in improved personal development, the other mate should embrace it without pride. It’s a win-win for the partnership because of the growth and the strengthened commitment that comes through cooperation and taking each other’s counsel gracefully.
It should also be noted that between Christian spouses, both husband and wife would do well to forever release the need to defend themselves. In their persons, God has created two bright and beautiful people. No defense is necessary because mere words cannot subtract from the truth of the goodness He has vested in each of His people.