When you live together in the intimacy of marriage, day in and day out, it becomes easy to start nitpicking at each other —finding little faults and irritants, which compels spouses to “correct” each other. It’s the “this is the right way to do this; yours is the wrong way” syndrome, also called the “you missed a spot” mindset. I’ve even heard it referred to as looking at your spouse with “manure-colored glasses.” You can easily figure out the specifics of that one.
Here’s something from a Webmd.com article titled, “Want a Happy Marriage? Be Nice, Don’t Nitpick” that Dr Susan Boon, a social psychologist said about nitpicking.
She brought up the point that:
“A happy marriage is based on deep friendship, knowing each other well, showing mutual respect, knowing when it makes sense to try to work out an issue, when it is not solvable. Many kinds of issues simply aren’t solvable.
“Identify issues that must be resolved, that can be ‘fruitfully discussed.’ Live with the rest. Just put up with it. All you do is waste your breath and get angry over these things that can’t be changed. You’re better off not trying to change them. Work around them. Commit to staying together, even though this is something you don’t like.”
We Can Nitpick Each Other Apart
That’s what I’ve learned over the years (and so has Steve). We can pick each other apart. We can go on and on and on in a never-ending crazy cycle. It’s important that we don’t eventually come to the point of thinking, “How’s that working for us?” It’s then that it’s important to stop the insanity of thinking that nagging over and over again about the same issues will work. That’s especially true, when it hasn’t changed things the last hundred or so times. You’ve got to know when to release the problem to God. It’s vital that you look for ways He will point you to, so you can “work around them.” I’m not talking about abuse or infidelity issues here, just annoyances. Abusive issues most likely will need professional help.
As it applies to the nitpicking matter, however, in her Huffington Post article, “You Missed a Spot! Five ways to Spot and Stop Negative, Nitpicking ways,” Lisa Sodelka gives some practical advice:
“The Missed a Spot mindset and behavior can be an inherent character trait or a simply a bad habit picked up by even the most optimistic among us. The good news is, like any trait or habit, there are ways to spot and stop your Missed A Spot approach.”
Here are 2 of the several given that you may want to implement in your life with your spouse:
• Take a breath.
Pause and comprehend what you’re about to say. Are you focused on the rose or the thorn? If the thorn, how important is your comment in the grand scheme of things? Unless the house is on fire and someone’s turning off the water, rethink your words.
• Review your day.
We have frequent opportunities to provide feedback to our kids, our spouse… Did you offer primarily positive and encouraging words, or were there many Missed a Spot mentions? Track your improvement!”
In the previously mentioned Webmd.com article, Dr Shae Graham Kosch advises:
Be committed to seeing your partner’s perspective.
Have a willingness to understand. Make changes in yourself, and find some method to get out of negative communication patterns —negativity that just escalates. Sometimes that couple just can’t move forward. They develop what I call ‘manure-colored glasses.’
“One trick that works: Discussing conflicts while talking on the phone, rather than face to face. That removes all nonverbal cues. She won’t see him looking at the ceiling; he won’t see her rolling her eyes. It keeps things more positive.”
In thinking about “manure-colored glasses” … how about manure types of approaches? Sometimes it’s the wife; sometimes it’s the husband. A Washington Post article points to “a wife who gets things done who is judged by a nitpicking husband”:
“My wife and I live by two different schools of thought. I believe that if something is worth doing, it’s worth doing right, and put lots of time, energy and resources into things I plan. My wife believes the perfect is the enemy of the good, and will accomplish tasks in a way I feel is slapdash. …Our differences make it hard for me to trust her decision-making, which I know makes her feel infantilized.”
The Response He Received
“As a person on the receiving end of this constant oversight, I can tell you the drip drip drip of disapproval is eroding your wife’s affection for you. I can appreciate my husband’s careful ways (we got a great mortgage rate!), but he has no appreciation for someone like me who knows when it’s just time to pull the trigger and buy some sheets instead of endlessly researching thread count. You’ve been warned, husband. Find a way to appreciate her ability to get things done or someday she will leave you.”
These are two very opinionated spouses, who are stomping all over each other’s different approaches. Sadly, they are so caught up into what is termed as “right-fighting” (I’m right and you’re wrong) that they sacrifice their marriage rather than change their own approaches. Yes, yes, what about the other spouse? I know… but SOMEONE needs to make the step to get off the crazy cycle, or it will drive them to either a bad marriage, or a divorce court.
Don’t allow a problem to be solved become more important than the spouse you vowed to love for the rest of your lives.
Creating a New Normal Together
Sheila Wray Gregoire makes this point, “Marriage should be about finding a new balance —not his way, not her way, but OUR way.” Sheila talks about finding a way to talk about the issues at hand that arise. One issue is when both spouses have different expectations in keeping a clean house.
“I think a conversation is definitely warranted so that they can both sit down and hash out THEIR new normal —not his normal, or her normal, but THEIR normal. Here are some starting points for discussion:
1. Let’s define “spotless”. Is clean the issue, or is it tidy? Is there any leeway?
2. What areas of the house are most important to you? Assuming that I can’t keep everything perfectly neat at all times, especially with children, what areas of the house would you like me to concentrate on? The living room? The kitchen? The bathroom?
3. Let’s talk about priorities. What are your big priorities for us as a family? Here are mine: kids who love God; a happy, active family; a comfortable home; a good marriage. All of these things matter. I’m wondering, though, how I can raise happy, active kids, and stay involved in their lives, and still keep the house perfectly spotless. It seems an impossible task to me. How do you see me spending my day?
4. If you want the house cleaner, what do you think I should cut out of my day? Can I stop working part-time?
5. Can we afford to hire a maid?
6. Can you work with me to teach the kids to clean, and can you help me enforce times when they also must do their chores?
To read more on this issue please read Sheila’s article, How Much is Reasonable to Expect From Your Spouse?
Change Your View
And here’s a thought that you might consider, if you’re experiencing difficulty in refraining from nitpicking at your spouse constantly. In a Practicalshepherding.com article, Brian Croft gives this insight:
“As a pastor, I have found a common link that surrounds the need for marriage counseling, often times revolves around this simple problem: Too much focus on the small, petty, annoyances that come with our spouse. Even in Christian marriage, bitterness comes when we do not view our spouse with gracious, forgiving eyes, but with harsh expectations.”
Then he gives some pretty blatant advice to “married couples lose sight of the gratefulness all Christians should have in the joy of Christian marriage and instead try to nitpick their spouse with an ungrateful heart.” He says:
“Go visit widows and widowers in your church and ask them about their spouse. Specifically ask what they loved about them most and what they miss about them now that they are gone. …As many of us are guilty of making ‘mountains out of mole hills’ in our marriages, we need a perspective jolt for our marriages and visiting a widow or widower who no longer has their spouse often provides that jolt. …I think the old saying is true, ‘You don’t know what you’ve got, until it is gone.’”
It’s all a matter of perspective, isn’t it?
Supportive Scriptures for Nitpickers
Below are two scriptures for those of you who nitpick at your spouse. I hope they will inspire you to reconsider your approach in the matter of nitpicking:
• Proverbs 18:19, “A brother offended is harder to be won than a strong city: and their contentions are like the bars of a castle.” When you keep picking at the habits of your spouse, you often cause them to resent “your help” so much that they dig in all the deeper into the habit. They could also they mentally build up walls of contentions, distancing themselves from you emotionally, so beware.
• James 5:9, “Don’t grumble against each other, brothers, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!” How true! So often, the one doing the “correcting” is someone who has even worse habits, and the other spouse views them as a hypocrite. There’s also a lot of damage that this type of grumbling and correcting can cause in the relationship. The relationship can take a serious hit because of this habit.
Is it TRULY Important?
A good question to ask is, “will this matter a hundred years from now?” If it’s not that serious, pray for God’s help and then drop it. Give grace —the same kind you want from your spouse when you irritate him or her with your ways of doing things.
Cindy and Steve Wright
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Filed under: Communication and Conflict