A Spoonful of Humility Helps the Fighting Go Down

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"A Spoonful of Humility" by Monica Portogallo (CatholicMom.com)

Image credit: Pixabay.com (2015), CC0 Public Domain

A few month back, I wrote about how blame used to be a big problem in my marriage. There is one specific type of blame that was the hardest to get rid of: a thing I call “counter-criticism.” Gradually, I discovered some simple strategies that have helped stop me from deploying (and receiving) this type of blame — and thus stopped the arguments that tend to flow from it. Counter-criticism blame is such an easy trap to fall into. Let’s look at an example:

Husband: Hey, you didn’t pay the water bill and now it’s past due. Now we have to pay the late fee. It’s such a waste of money!

Wife: Well, last month, you didn’t pay the credit-card bill, and we had to pay the late fee AND interest!

Husband: I told YOU to pay that credit card bill!

Wife: No you didn’t! Why do I have to be the one who pays all the bills, anyway?!

Basically, counter-criticism is saying, “you are not justified in complaining about the thing I did. You did something worse!” It doesn’t even have to be related to the original complaint, either. It could be, “Well YOU forgot my birthday last month!” when my husband asked if I remembered to wash the blue shirt he wanted to wear.

There are so many ways this type of interaction leads to fights. It’s accusatory. It ignores one’s own mistakes. It changes the subject. It implies the other is a hypocrite. Once it became a habit in my relationship, I  found myself fighting, not bringing up things that bothered me, or both. With much prayer and wise moral support, I discovered ways to stop counter-criticism, both when I am tempted to give it, or when I receive it.

Giving it: Stop and consider

Now when my husband comes to me with a complaint or criticism, I stop and consider the validity of what he is saying. If I did in fact do something wrong, I apologize or do something to make it right. Even if I can think of something he did that is ten times worse (and often I can), that is not relevant to the topic at hand, so I don’t bring it up then. If what he did has not been addressed or resolved, I will bring that up later, but not when discussing something I did wrong. So now the above conversation might look like:

Husband: Hey, you didn’t pay the water bill and now it’s past due. Now we have to pay the late fee. It’s such a waste of money!

Wife: Oh, you’re right. I was supposed to pay that last week. I was so caught up with Junior being sick I completely forgot. I’ll call them now and pay over the phone. Maybe they’ll waive the late fee.

Receiving it: Stop and redirect, or read between the lines

For me, receiving the counter-criticism was the harder part to deal with. These days, when I am receiving counter-criticism for an actual criticism I brought up, I redirect the conversation back to the original topic. Again using our previous example:

Husband: Hey, you didn’t pay the water bill and now it’s past due. Now we have to pay the late fee.

Wife: Well, last month, you didn’t pay the credit-card bill, and we had to pay the late fee AND interest!

Husband: That’s true, but I’m talking about the water bill right now. What do you think about setting up automatic payments for the utilities, the way I did for the credit card after last month?

Sometimes, though, I dealt with counter-criticism not for actual criticism, but for implied criticism … even when I wasn’t meaning to imply it. There was a time I felt like anything I said could turn into an attack on me. Even something innocuous like, “I didn’t sleep well last night” could be met with “Well, you woke ME up the other night when you were watching that movie!”

It took a long time for me to stop reacting in kind to this sort of unprovoked criticism. Now, I realize this criticism is more about my husband’s insecurities than about me. Instead of simply reacting, now I calmly respond with, “Hey, I’m not trying to criticize you” or “I wasn’t saying it was your fault. I’m just telling you what happened.”

Humility and its fruits

My working definition for humility is being honest with myself and others about my strengths, weaknesses, and limitations. When I am humble about complaints about me, counter-criticism is easier to overcome. My mistakes don’t become irrelevant just because others make mistakes, too — even when the mistakes of others look like proverbial eye-beams to my speck-filled eye. Now that I am not falling into the counter-criticism trap, there is much more peace in my home. It’s not only that there’s less fighting. I’m also not as afraid to bring up things that are bothering me. A life of walking on eggshells and holding grudges is a thing of the past for me.

There is a peace in me that I didn’t know I could have in my situation. A little humility was all it took. For me, the fruit of humility truly was peace, within me and around me.


Copyright 2019 Monica Portogallo

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About Author

Monica Portogallo is a wife, mother, and registered dietitian nutritionist who does her best not to miss the lessons God sends to her through the joys and struggles of daily life. She lives in California.

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