How To Respond To People Who Criticize Their Spouse

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I received this question from someone: “I am surrounded by acquaintances (and even some relatives) that berate their spouses constantly. It is usually behind their spouse's back, but sometimes it is to their face. I see this as disrespectful, disloyal, and unloving.

What is the best response? Should I tell them how bad this makes them look? I fear for their relationships, too. This behavior may lead to a worse situation.

So far I have been silent. My only response is to change the subject as soon as I am able. I'd love to say something, but I want it to be thought provoking and helpful. Please, what is your advice?”

ANSWER:

I have a pastor friend who grew so burdened about people berating others in front of him and using his silence to mean that he agreed with them, that he started pulling out a 3X5 card to take notes on what they were saying.  When the bad-mouthing person asked, "What are you doing?" he replied, "I am going to this person to report what you have said and to see if I can help solve this problem." He made himself part of the solution. People stopped bad-mouthing others to him!

So, I applaud your concern and desire not to participate in slander and to put a stop to such talk.  May your tribe increase!

We could assume for a moment that the complaining person is seeking your empathy and help, having no intention to slander. However, I detect that you do not believe these individuals are requesting your help, but rather they want you to go along with the slander.  Obviously, you must not let this person use your silence as approval. Instead, you must help solve the problem, as you have expressed is your desire.

By the way, when Sarah and I married in 1973, we made a commitment never to bad-mouth the other in front of people.  We felt that we should keep our problems between us, and when we included others, we would only include those people who could help us with our problem.  We said, "If the other person isn't part of the solution to the problem, we won't include them in the problem."

I am suggesting that you make yourself part of the solution.

But first, I support your tactic of changing the subject as soon as possible.  Keep doing that and these folks will get the message that you don't want to hear their unloving, disrespectful comments. This works!

If they don't get the message to stop including you, say "Because I care for you and your spouse, is there something I can do to help both of you?"

Turn the topic toward the need for a positive solution.  If they welcome your help, try to help them.  If you don't know how to help, try to get them help from a competent person.  If they indicate that they don't want your help, let them know that you will be praying. In time, these critical folks will see you as one who wants to help and pray.  I predict they will either change for the better or avoid telling you anything slanderous!  

If that doesn't work, pull out a 3X5 card!

-Dr. E