There are certain behaviors in relationships that are easily identified as the most destructive. They are known to most of us: poorly controlled anger that becomes rageful, withdrawal that turns into emotional cutoff and unaddressed addictions that control the person and therefore harm the relationship. These behaviors often flow from dealing with the most volatile issues that couples face such as money, sex, parenting and others.
But those are just the most obvious, in-your-face destroyers. There are also more subtle, but equally harmful ones. There is one that really sticks out to me.
Like the dripping of water on a rock that eventually erodes it away, nagging, criticizing, complaining, and correcting eventually erodes a relationship. Yes, it is slower, but it can be just as painful in the long run.
I remember working with a couple whose relationship was headed down the tubes. Outwardly there was nothing dramatic happening, but the couple seemed to be profoundly unhappy. After listening to their stories I turned to the wife and confronted her:
“You need to stop FAA – Fixing, Analyzing and Advising.”
She looked at me and declared: “But those are my superpowers. If you take them away I’ll have nothing left!”
I agreed with her that they were indeed super powerful – but it was the power to destroy, not to create. I could see the husband relax. I think he finally felt understood. Of course I could have told her to stop nagging, criticizing, complaining and correcting, but I think she got the message.
During the sessions I noticed that she got quite upset when her husband did not agree with her. So I helped both of them to express their feelings better, without blaming or shaming. And we worked on not holding an expectation that their partner had to agree with them or face their wrath or withdrawal. In time she learned that she had a lot of power left. Her husband responded very well to kind words and encouragement and so did her kids. We talked about how the Fruits of the Spirit are the real superpowers as outlined in Galatians chapter 5 in the Bible starting with verse 22:
22 But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit (power) in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!
If you want to know what not to do, read beginning with verse 16.
By the way, the genders could have just as easily been reversed in the above scenario – husbands often have those destructive superpowers as well.