Belittling behaviours have their way in many relationships; and in many marriages. It’s always fear that underlies the critical spirit. Let us attempt to define it.
The Critical Spirit: that approach to relational life that speaks a perception of truth without the covering of love. Such a criticism, therefore, is not constructive.
Given that there is generally a hint of truth in any criticism – that hint exemplified in the criticiser’s rationale of attack – we cannot hold that the critical spirit is not without cause. We all tend to act in ways that demonstrates unflinching commitment to what we think God has shown us; only later is it sometimes revealed that we were deceived. There are so many dimensions of truth that we are to be forgiven for acting in what we think at the time is good faith, that only ends up being action in bad faith.
But what is the cause of the critical spirit, and what, specifically, is it in marriage?
When a husband or wife berates their partner in an emotional way there clearly isn’t the presence of the adult sensibility within them at the time. They have become the child again, as we all have the propensity to regress into the child from time to time; the scary thing is it can happen in a heartbeat. No adult is too far from such a regression – a minute or two sometimes.
What underlies the child (the child that is wounded) in the fully-formed adult is fear. Somehow fear is operating cogently, and such fear can be entirely unconscious, to the point we are not aware of it. This is why, in that mode of the critical spirit, where our anger is raging, we don’t feel fearful at all. But fear is at the root of it.
Correcting such a state of the critical spirit in full fly is, hence, just a matter of embracing a humbling reality: “What, in this moment, is inciting fear in me... what may I not be aware of... what fear(s) could this be?”
We want to name our fears in order to be corrected of them. Awareness is the miracle of God – divine revelation and inspiration.
The critical spirit in marriage saps it of life. Discouragement becomes resignation, which becomes low self-esteem. Fear is behind it all; fear in the criticiser. They must become aware of their fear and explore how to be healed of their fear in order to love their spouse as they deserve.
© 2014 S. J. Wickham.