ďCriticize with influence: bark, donít bite.Ē Ė Laurie Puhn

ďLet no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.Ē Ė Bible

Joe and Jane were both reasonably good with numbers and so they took turns balancing the checkbook. That way both of them had a good feel for the status of their finances.

However, Joe and Jane had very different ways of making entries in the checkbook. Joe was very meticulous about entering in expenditures immediately.

Jane on the other hand made all her entries at the end of the month. When it was her month to balance the account, she entered in her entries and everything was fine. When it was Joeís turn, he had to hunt Jane up and get all her input.

So one day Joe unloaded on Jane. ďWhy canít you handle the checkbook the way normal people do? You are always late getting your entries in. Some day you are going to forget an entry and then we will be all messed up.Ē Jane was visibly upset and attempted to defend her methods. His criticism hurt. How could Joe have handled this situation better?

Laurie Puhn, in her book ďFight Less, Love More,Ē suggests five ways we overcriticize. I have rephrased them in a positive sense.

1. Donít disguise personal preference as criticism. Just because someone does things differently than we do doesnít mean they are wrong and definitely doesnít justify criticism. Janeís method for handling the checkbook was different from Joeís but apparently worked OK; they had not had a problem balancing the checkbook to this point.

2. Donít use criticism to humiliate your mate in front of others. Even if there is a valid need for criticism, it should be done in private; it isnít anyone elseís business.

3. Donít use criticism to rub it in her face. Donít make a big deal out of it, especially if there is an agreement to fix the concern. Continually reminding her of the past wonít improve the future any. Once an agreement is reached, leave it alone.

4. Donít criticize something after the fact. We canít change the past. A plan to improve the future may be in order, but once mistakes have been made, forgive (if thatís needed) and move on.

5. Correct the mistake, not the person. Donít attack the personís character. In the case of Joe and Jane, Joe strongly implied that Jane wasnít a normal person. This is a serious allegation. Once again, deal with the individual event and move on.

6. I am going to add a sixth suggestion for overcriticizing: Donít hold your criticism until it explodes. Deal with issues when they come up. Donít wait until an accumulation of offenses (real or perceived) reaches the detonation point. Apparently Joe held in his concerns for some time, letting his emotions build up to a dangerous level.

What should Joe have done in the above scenario? Perhaps this would work: ďJane, you do a great job balancing the checkbook when itís your turn, and each month everything always comes out OK. But I get a little frustrated when itís my turn since I first have to go get your entries for the month.

ďHow about this: when itís my month to balance the checkbook I will tell you a couple of days ahead of time so you can put your entries in. Would that be acceptable to you, or do you have another idea?Ē

Puhn offers three steps to rational criticism:

1. Keep in mind what you want for a result. You donít want a fight; you want the concern dealt with. Make sure you clearly understand the situation before judging.

2. Emphasize the benefits of changing whatever is being criticized.

3. Say what you want, not what you donít want. Ultimately the goal should be improve the situation for both you and your spouse.

Roger Rollins is the executive director of The Family and Marriage Coalition of Aiken, Inc. Contact him at 803-640-4689, rogerrollins@aikenfamco.com or www.aikenfamco.com.