Welcome to “Love and Sex Today.” I’m Dr. Doug Weiss and today’s topic is “Critic or Cheerleader?” We are going to be talking about something that really makes a difference today, so you will definitely want to read all the way through to find out what you are and find out how to be awesome at being your partner’s cheerleader. This is going to be really, really helpful and practical for you.
I don’t know if you’ve ever been on a road trip with your parents when you were younger, and they got to choose the music. Usually, it would not be your type of music at all. It seemed that it added hours and hours to the trip, because what you were listening to was just painful. Marriage and long-term relationships are like very long road trips– lots to see, lots to do but the company never changes. I don’t know if you ever thought about your relationship that way. I mean I get to enjoy so much of my life. I’ve been married for over 30 years. I actually enjoy having the same spouse. I love looking at the same eyes. I love being with the same person. I enjoy her just totally, and I love that.
However, when you’re with your spouse over the long term, it’s like that music. I don’t know if you’ve ever thought about this, but your spouse is going to hear more words from you than any other one person in their life, even their parents, day in, day out. Some of you have been married 10, 15, 20, 30, 40 years. You have spoken more to your spouse than anyone.
I want to talk about what role you’ve decided to play in your spouse’s life, because this is really, really important. It’s conscious but some people say it’s not conscious. You, as a spouse, already have a belief about your role. You believe your role is either a cheerleader or critic, so let’s walk through this. My role is a cheerleader. I have always believed my role is to cheerlead Lisa and my children. Even if I see the flaws, and sometimes the flaws even cost me time, energy, money, that’s not to be my overall focus. My job as a husband, my job as a dad, is to highlight what’s best.
My daughter was a cheerleader, and cheerleaders don’t call fouls. Cheerleaders don’t scream out, “You made a mistake.” No, cheerleaders are people who see what’s right and cheer it on. I have sat for hours on bleachers watching my daughter cheerlead at sporting events. Regardless of how the team played, they might be 30 points down, they might be in the last two minutes and they’re not going to win, the cheerleaders are still out there rallying positive energy and support for the team, and they’re giving it their absolute best. They’re out there jumping around, yelling, and really encouraging people to give some positive energy to the sports team.
The spouse who has decided to be the cheerleader has endless positive energy, because they decided a long time ago, “I am here to show you your best self. I am here, regardless of where you are in the game of life, to tell you that you’re awesome. You’re amazing. You’re smart. You’re clever. You’re persistent.” People fly into my office from all over the world to do marriage intensives of various types. One of the exercises I love doing with couples is praise. I have them give two praises to each other. I’m amazed at how insightful they are to each other. They keep these nuggets of observations in their heart for decades about how they really enjoy the persistence, or the work ethic, or the humor, or the organization, or the ability to have intuition in situations. They see these positive qualities about their spouse day in, day out, over weeks and decades. Yet, they never just say it.
If you decided your role is cheerleader, you say what you see, “You’re amazing. You’re smart. You’re creative. You’re intelligent. When you do that, you’re so powerful with the kids. I really enjoy this part of your personality. You really let it out there. You let it be known in front of family and friends and children.” I always praised my wife in front of my children, because I wanted my children to have a high regard for my wife. I’ve always told my children, “She was my wife, before she was your mom. You treat her as if she’s my wife, with respect.” My kids knew that was the hot button for dad– you respect mom at all times. I am my wife’s cheerleader.
Once you understand it’s a position, once you identify your role, it becomes who you are as a spouse. Just like when you get into a job, maybe you are identified as the manager so you assume those responsibilities. There is the other role that people choose inside the marriage, and that is the role of critic, even if their belief is that they are trying to help. That hopefully is the motivation– “I want to help you get better. I don’t want you to do that in public.”
I believe some critics’ hearts are right, that they want to really help improve their spouse. I don’t remember that being in the marriage vows—“My goal is to improve you.” You marry this person because you think they’re amazing, and then you find out there’s a slightly higher percentage that irritates you, frustrates you, causes you pain, that is disruptive to the way you do your life. They want it cold, you want it hot. They leave the toilet seat up, you don’t. They’re not as intuitive on certain things as you are. They spend more or save more than you would like.
You focus on what’s a challenge for you. You focus on the flaws. When you see the flaw, you’re loud to announce that, sometimes even in front of others like family and friends, which is really a very bad place to be. If you’re doing that in public, you have decided in your heart to humiliate and to highlight their flaws in front of others. Maybe that’s to make you look good. Maybe you’re insecure. Maybe you don’t have an education and your spouse does. Or maybe they make more money than you. For whatever reason, you like to bring them down. I don’t know what the motive would be, but you’d have some motive in trying to make sure other people are experiencing, or at least seeing, the pain you’re maybe experiencing. If you’re married to this person, it’s like a really bad radio channel for the rest of your life. You can’t do anything right. If you do anything, and it’s not their way, it’s a problem.
In my marriage, we solved that really early in the marriage. I think, weeks into it. We have this mantra that says, “If I’m doing it, I’m doing it right. If you don’t like how I’m doing it, you get to do it.” If my wife likes the socks rolled and I like to fold them, and I’m folding them instead of rolling them and she comes in and says, “Hey. You’re not doing it right.” I go, “Do you want to do it or do you want me to continue doing it right?” She’s like, “I’ll do it.” “Okay. You can do it. If you need it to be done right, that’s fine.”
There are ways of circumventing some of this negative behavior if you have it going on in your life. Remember to look at how many words you speak, and the positive versus maybe the neutral or negative. There are some people who don’t speak to their spouse very much at all. That’s not positive either. You want to believe your behavior. Don’t believe, “Oh yeah. I think I’m a cheerleader because every five years, I tell them they’re amazing.” No. Look at your week.
How many proactive, positive words are you speaking to your spouse’s heart? “You’re awesome. You’re really amazing. I so enjoy you, your personality, and your smile. I just love the way you manage things, or you cooked, or you cleaned up, or you provide, or you care, or you work, or you took care of something with the kids that they needed your personality to get that done.” There are so many things our spouses do that need to be highlighted, but you want to believe your behavior. If you think you’re a cheerleader but you’re actually a critic, that’s going to be really challenging because the radio on the other side is still a critic.
If you don’t know, ask your spouse, “Do you think I give you more positive affirmation versus criticism?” Now be prepared for them to be honest with you, even if you don’t agree. I would believe what they’re saying to you, because they’re listening to the radio more than yourself. Then evaluate that and look at how you can become more of their cheerleader. You could always change your role, but you have to do it intentionally. You definitely have to say to yourself, “I need to be their cheerleader.”
Fortunately, you can always switch your role and make it fun. Remember, marriage is a long trip. It’s a very long trip. If you decided to be married, you’ve decided, “This is going to be my favorite person throughout the rest of my life. He or she is going to be sitting right there, in sickness and health, for richer or for poorer.” Right, remember those words? Ups and downs, good days, bad days, days when you’re having so much success and sometimes when it doesn’t seem like success is even possible, right next to me is the one I wanted to be on the road with. The one I wanted in the car.
Make the radio positive, make it cheerleading. Be that person. When you come in the door, maybe you need to be thoughtful, even prayerful, “God help me. I’m going into my house, help me to switch gears and not see what’s wrong, but see what’s right and say those things. If something needs to be done, help me be the one to pick it up and do it.” This is an awesome person to be married to, so be that person.
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