When an interviewer once asked Barbara Bush what advice she gave to her daughter-in-law Laura Bush, her answer was simple: “Don’t criticize your husband.” The elder Mrs. Bush recalled a remark she made about one of George Bush Sr.’s speeches: “I think you’re tired, and you mumbled your words.” The effect of this seemingly innocent comment? “When I criticized George, he remembered it for months afterwards.”
“So I really took her advice to heart,” Laura Bush said. “I knew there were plenty of other critics [of my husband] without me being one of them. Until one night we were driving into our driveway and he said, ‘Tell me the truth, how was my speech?’ And I said, ‘Well, it wasn’t that good.’ And with that, he drove into the garage wall!”
Although our president might be the only man to have driven into a garage wall upon hearing his wife’s criticism, the fact remains: our critical words can have a debilitating effect on our husbands! I imagine that many men, like the first President Bush, remember their wife’s critical words for months or even years.
My mom has observed that, of all the criticism our husbands may receive—from their boss or their family or even an enemy—a wife’s disparaging remarks can often do the most damage. To me, this is a sobering thought. I regret many a hasty, critical comment that I’ve made to Brian.
This doesn’t mean there is not a place for gentle correction at times. As wives, it is our responsibility to help our husbands in their pursuit of godliness. However, there is a big difference between gentle correction motivated out of a heart of love and sinful, unkind criticism.
However, as detrimental as our criticism is, our words of encouragement carry a unique, life-giving potential for our husbands. Recently, I sat down with my husband and asked him what he experiences when I encourage him. He said that my encouraging words sustain him, and help him to persevere in life and godliness. He said they help him to be aware of God’s grace at work in his life, changing him to be more like the Savior. And my encouragement makes him feel prized and appreciated. What a stunning effect my words can have!
Now, please don’t assume I’m the world’s most encouraging wife. Far from it! As Brian described the effect of my encouragement I was saddened by how little I do encourage him, but freshly inspired to make this a greater priority.
If your husband, like mine, would list “encouragement” in his “Top Three,” consider making small but specific changes. Seek to refrain from critical remarks, and instead, look for creative ways to express encouragement.
For example, put a sticky note somewhere telling him that you love him. Hide a card and his favorite candy in his bag when he goes on a business trip (this is my husband’s favorite). Or think about one character trait where he really shines, and tell him so!
Our husband may never be President of the United States, but when we refrain from criticism and cultivate encouragement, we can give them confidence in our love, inspire them to persevere, and point them to the Savior.