How to give hard to hear feedback to your spouse

Mar 24, 2024

Communication, the lifeblood of healthy relationships, thrives on honest feedback. Yet, offering feedback to your spouse, especially feedback they might not want to hear, can feel like walking a tightrope.  One misstep and feelings can get bruised.  The key lies in understanding how each of you perceives feedback and crafting an approach that fosters connection rather than conflict.

Recognizing Sensitivity Levels: The Thin and the Thick

Before diving into specific strategies, let's acknowledge the elephant in the room – sensitivity levels.  Some people, like my husband, have what I call "thin skin."  Constructive criticism can feel like a personal attack.  Others, myself included, have "thicker skin" and can process critical feedback more easily.  This difference is crucial.  Tailoring your approach to your partner's sensitivity is the first step towards a productive conversation.

The Road Less Traveled: Meta-Communication about Feedback

Imagine a pre-game pep talk for feedback.  This is "meta-communication," a conversation about how you'll have future conversations.  Discuss with your partner how each of you prefers to receive feedback.  Do gentle hints work, or do you need directness?  Would you like time to process before discussing further, or do you prefer things dealt with right away?  This transparency sets the stage for future conversations and can significantly reduce misunderstandings and defensiveness.

Creating Safe Zones: Cues & Weekly Meetings

Think of a "safe word" for feedback.  It could be a phrase like, "Hey, can I give you some feedback?" or a hand signal.  This agreed-upon cue disarms potential defensiveness and ensures both partners are mentally prepared for the discussion.

Structure also plays a role.  Consider implementing a weekly "business meeting" for household and relationship discussions.  Utilizing a shared notes app can help both partners prepare and contribute equally.  This structured approach takes the sting out of potentially confrontational conversations.

Beyond Positivity: Feedback as a Tool for Growth

Feedback isn't just about pointing out flaws.  It's about fostering understanding and shared responsibility.  Imagine feedback as a tool for growth, a way to build a stronger, happier relationship together.  Let's say your partner struggles with chores.  Instead of a blaming, "You never clean!", try, "Honey, I feel overwhelmed with the housework.  Could we brainstorm some ways to share the load more evenly?"

By framing your feedback in a supportive way,  you create a space for collaboration and problem-solving, strengthening your bond in the process.

It's a Dance, Not a Duel: Patience, Understanding, & Strategy

Giving and receiving feedback is an art – one that requires patience, understanding, and a bit of strategy.  Remember, the goal isn't to "win" or change your partner.  It's to create a space where both of you can express yourselves openly and work together towards a more fulfilling relationship.

Here are some additional tips to keep in mind:

  • Focus on behavior, not personality. Instead of, "You're so inconsiderate," try, "I felt hurt when you forgot to pick up milk after you said you would."
  • Own your feelings. Use "I" statements to express how your partner's actions make you feel.
  • Be specific, not vague. Instead of, "You never listen," try, "I felt unheard when I was talking about my day at work."
  • Focus on solutions, not blame. Ask for suggestions on how to improve things going forward.
  • Practice active listening. Pay attention to your partner's feelings and try to see things from their perspective.
  • End on a positive note. Reaffirm your love and respect for your partner.

Remember, this is a journey, not a destination.  There will be bumps along the road, but by adopting these strategies, you can transform difficult conversations into opportunities for growth and connection, solidifying the foundation of your relationship.

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