Husband & Wife Articles

The Minimal Critic

What will happen if – yikes! – you love your spouse without criticizing?

By Hallie Lord

In the early days of my marriage I took the exhortation to lead my husband to heaven as a command to grab him by the hand and yank him along the straight and narrow. He had flaws and I had plans to shine a harsh corrective spotlight on them. After all, isn’t that what a good wife does?

No, that’s what a controlling wife does.

And a controlling wife I was. I called him out on every misstep, every bad habit. He would confide and I would criticize. I was ruthless in my attempt to purge him of his supposed sins.

Of course, as with most of my misguided marital plans, the bad fruit far outweighed my good intentions. If I helped my husband at all, which is doubtful, it was at the cost of what had always been a loving and supportive relationship.

I’d ceased to be my husband’s greatest supporter, opting instead to become judge, jury and executioner. Not surprisingly, he responded by clamming up. No one relishes unrelenting criticism.

In retrospect, I know I should have been offering encouragement and a steady hand to hold when he stumbled. In my defense, though, I was motivated by fear: fear that if I didn’t highlight his worst traits he might never notice them, and if he didn’t notice them he might never correct them, and if he didn’t correct them his relationship with God might be irreparably damaged. But nothing is irreparable for God. And ultimately, these struggles were between him and his maker.

That is not to say I didn’t have a role to play. God had given me this man with the expectation that I would help him to heaven. I hadn’t been wrong about that. It was the details of my assignment I’d misunderstood.

G. K. Chesterton said, “Unlovely things must be deeply loved before they become loveable.” This is, of course, not to say that my husband was unlovable — I can only pray that I may one day become as virtuous as he — but certainly he had unlovable traits, as we all do.

God was asking me, and continues to ask me, to simply love him and all his flaws into lovability. Occasionally this calls for constructive criticism, but not often. Now I know that because I love him deeply and unconditionally that he is willing, eager and able to confide in me. If he knew he’d be met with judgment he might keep everything to himself. Without trust we travel our paths alone — an affront to the unitive nature of matrimony.

It took me far too long to come to this conclusion. This is, in part, because my husband is so good at that which I had failed. Never once has he approached me with abrasive advice. He has complete faith that God is gently working to chisel away my rough edges and polish me into the creature he yearns for me to be. Had my husband ruthlessly focused on my failures as I so often did on his, I’d surely have realized sooner how demoralizing and counterproductive a practice it is.

He chooses, instead, to have faith in me and God’s plan for my salvation. When I see him confident that with God’s grace I can conquer my bad habits, it spurs me on to continue the fight. When I see my God-given virtues through his loving eyes, I am energized to pray for the grace to develop more. And when he sees my sins for what they are — drops in the ocean of God’s mercy — I am able to stand back up again, with the help of his guiding hands, to continue marching on.

Whether thanks to love, discipline or both, my husband has painted a picture for me of the woman I want to be. The light of Christ shines through him illuminating my strengths and compassionately exposing my weaknesses. He shows me my ideal being, a gift that is both my roadmap and my strength in times of trouble.

Hallie Lord, a convert to Catholicism, resides in the Deep South with her husband and five children. She writes at