Criticism hurts. It hurts so much it can destroy any relationship it touches. Critical parents push their kids away. Critical mothers- or fathers-in-law alienate their children's spouses. Critical bosses cause employees to quit their jobs. It should be no surprise then that criticism can also wreak havoc on a marriage.

Criticism does not have to be verbal. It is, after all, an attitude of rejection and that attitude can be conveyed in many ways: a frown, an unhappy vibe, a sigh, or even silence — all can convey rebuke, disappointment or displeasure. The critical attitude communicates a lack of acceptance. It's the complete opposite of praise, celebration, appreciation, pleasure or pride. When people experience the rejection of criticism they suffer intense emotional pain. They desperately want to avoid the source of that pain – the critical person in their lives.

Despite the cost of criticism, most spouses use this communication tool liberally. When upset, irritated or frustrated with their partner, they say so — with words or otherwise. They think it's their "right" to honestly show their feelings. They don't seem to notice or care that exercising this right can only cause them harm. Indulging in negativity squelches love. Yes, the place is a mess; yes, I did forget to pay the bill; yes, my manners could use some improvement – but if you constantly point out my flaws I won't like you very much. And yet, in the moment, people ignore this reality, reaching instead for the instant emotional gratification of being right.

Avoiding, Reducing & Eliminating Criticism

Criticism can literally destroy a marriage – it is a very dangerous tool. Like anger, it "undoes" love and harms its victims. As it states in Proverbs: "a soothing tongue is a tree of life, but harsh words break the spirit." Hurting one's partner hurts one's marriage. Therefore, a person who wants to be happily married should resolve to keep critical communications down to the barest minimum. Even if one's spouse is seriously flawed, criticism has to be avoided.

Follow the 95-5 Rule: 95% of communications should be pleasant, positive, warm, up-beat and otherwise good-feeling. Another 5% can be slightly less than good-feeling, including: instructions, grumpy moods and, among other things, criticism. This doesn't leave much space for criticism, as you can see.

If you want to correct a spouse's behavior, use positive reinforcement for the opposite behavior (i.e. get very excited about a cleaned dish rather than critical about an unclean one). Use humor (not sarcasm) to make some points. When you decide you want to use part of your tiny criticism allotment, then do so very carefully in order to minimize the damage. Stay away from insults, character assignation, harsh language, speaking in a loud voice and so on. Use the sandwich approach instead: positive, critical part, positive again.

If there are bigger issues to resolve, seek marriage counseling. Instead of criticizing and complaining. Let a professional gently guide your spouse to more appropriate behavior.

Removing criticism from your marriage can only help. Even if your spouse is the critical one, your own efforts can raise the marriage to a higher level. Never sink down to the bad behavior of your partner in order to try to make things better – the failure rate of that strategy is 100%. Be the best spouse you can be and ask G‑d to bless your efforts with success. You can even ask Him to help your spouse improve his or her problematic behaviors – since you can always pray for anything at all and G‑d has the power to solve every problem. Your positive efforts are sure to bring positive results in the easiest, most pleasant way possible.