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When Feedback in Marriage Turns from Helpful to Annoying

communication habits stress Jan 20, 2021

If you were to distill down the learnings from the thousands of studies conducted on the psychology of marriage, you're likely to end up with a conclusion like this: Communication is good. Not talking to each other is bad.

But that's only part of the story. Because open communication and feedback in marriage is a lot like eating kale or broccoli in a balanced diet. It's good -- to a point. The moment you start overdoing it, new problems emerge. 

No, we're not talking about the digestive effects of eating an entire bunch of kale in one sitting. We're talking about the marital distress that arises when we take feedback and communication too far.

What does overdoing feedback look like?

Here's an example from our life. Kaley loves to have a clean house. Nate, on the other hand, doesn’t mind when things get a little (or a lot) messy.

It’s good for Kaley to communicate her desire for a clean house, much better than her withholding her concerns and then having all this pent up energy explode like a marital time bomb. 

But, if she's not careful, Kaley can easily overdo her cleanliness feedback. If she started sharing every thought she had about Nate‘s lack of cleanliness -- his inability to skillfully load the dishwasher, or the trail of crumbs he leaves between the toaster and the plate -- she would begin to enter the zone of over-communication and micromanagement.

This tipping point sounds subtle, but it makes all the difference in how Nate responds to her requests. One earnest request lands well for Nate. Seventy four results in resentment, irritation, and the opposite of what Kaley really wants -- a husband who helps keep the house in order.

So how can you communicate feedback to your partner without becoming totally annoying?

 

Tools

 

1. Consolidate your feedback.

The feedback you give to your spouse is a lot like the emails or texts you send them. Sure, you could send them ten emails in the course of thirty minutes. But you're unlikely to get the results you’re hoping for. Instead, the recipient of this barrage of spam is likely to delete them all, without reading a single line.

The same holds true for your feedback. Consolidating your feedback into a single heartfelt reveal or request is far more effective than this scattershot approach of constant small asks.

 

2. Time your feedback like a marriage pro.

You may have noticed that there are better and worse times for making a difficult request or having a hard conversation. Diving into a feedback conversation as you're both getting ready for a meeting – not a great time. Dropping a huge topic on  your partner just before bed when they're exhausted from a long day at work – also not a great time. By timing your feedback more skillfully, during a moment when they're present, undistracted, and available to engage fully in the conversation, you may find that they respond with greater interest and curiosity.

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