We talk about death a good deal in the Army, and for obvious reasons. This work can be so incredibly costly.  Most of us have lost dear friends in the last 15 years of warfare.

Army life also can levy significant cost on a marriages – sometimes to the point of death.

As I have observed through the years, the natural movement in a relationship is toward isolation, ultimately death, unless couples move very intentionally toward oneness.

Perhaps that is especially true in the context of a military marriage in which Soldiers leave home with such regularity, and for so long. Because the quality of a relationship is so often based on time spent together, on memories built – it is the exception when a relationship gets stronger in a context of multiple and extended deployments.  

If pressed, I would say that a steady stream of criticism is the leading contributor to the death of a marriage. And that is especially concerning in this military world in which it can be so easy to shift into critical evaluation of our spouses – their habits and choices.  

I am not talking about the serious stuff like addictions or abusive behaviors, I mean the ticky-tack stuff that we feel obliged to criticize.   

I remember the last time I came home from deployment, my wife had spent $100 on this really nice toaster – I suppose it was an impressive toaster. It had wide slots and you could put bagels in it – but I remember thinking, “Really? $100?”

Then I remember deciding that I loved my wife more than I missed that $100, so I let it go. I figured it won’t matter in a year.

It’s more than a year later and it doesn’t.  

I think we still use that toaster.

But we live in this environment where criticism abounds. Rightfully so.  

The very solemnity of our work requires leaders who are disposed to be honest, with a thick enough skin to both offer and receive criticism well. This is serious stuff, there is not a lot of extra time to mollycoddle sensitive souls.  

Still, not all the characteristics that make for a skillful combat leader translate well at home.   

“Routinely identifies and corrects deficiencies” looks pretty good on an evaluation, but probably not going to get you very far at home.

I have yet to hear one single spouse say, “I am so thankful for my spouse’s keen observations and suggestions for my improvement.” I am not saying that spouse does not exist, just that I have not personally met her or him.

Take away: If the object of your criticism will not matter a year from now, then it probably is not worth criticizing.  

Maybe ask, “will the thing that I am about to criticize still matter 365 days from now?”  If the answer is no, choose to invest in the relationship rather than indulge your inclination to be critical.  

I couldn’t be more serious. Many marriages die because of this – criticism that communicates un-love and dis-respect.  

Sure, the criticisms swell into bigger issues and so, when the marriage is pronounced dead – the cause, they say, was infidelity, or abuse, or neglect, or something like that.

Really though, the virus from which the symptoms derived – the thing that killed it, was criticism.