“I am grateful that I am not as judgmental as all those censorious, self-righteous people around me.” – Anonymous

“Teach me knowledge and good judgment, for I believe in your commands.” – Bible

Joe and Jane had just returned home after spending the evening with their friends Jack and Jill. Joe was a little upset by some of the things Jack had said. He was debating with Jane about whether he should have a frank discussion with Jack. Since they were fairly close, Joe thought maybe he should try to “straighten Jack out,” as he put it.

Jane was a little concerned about Joe’s plans. She told Joe he was being a little too critical and maybe even judgmental. Joe said he would just be sharing the “truth” with Jack. Jane wasn’t so sure.

The dilemma Joe and Jane were facing is something we all deal with on a frequent basis. We have our definitions of “right and wrong” and tend to be quick to express our opinion when something is “wrong.” This can be particularly troublesome in a marriage. Intimate knowledge of your spouse is a good thing overall, but such knowledge can be used against him or her if the definitions of right and wrong are different.

In fact a lot of the time we get irritated with our spouse over a behavior that is not really “right or wrong;” it’s just different.

The word “judgment” means the ability to make a decision or form an opinion objectively, authoritatively and wisely. The word “judgmental,” on the other hand, is often characterized as a tendency to exercise judgment harshly. So maybe the goal is to exercise judgment, i.e. to make a decision or form an opinion, but to carry out the decision or express the opinion in a way that doesn’t offend or condemn.

With our spouse, there are a couple of steps to consider when we encounter something that we think is “wrong.”

First of all, why is it wrong? What is the standard we are using? Is it simply different from what we would have said or done? Do we have some objective standard by which we can evaluate the words or actions in question? Is our spouse even aware of the “standard” we are using?

In many cases the real issue is not “right or wrong” but just different. It can be as simple as squeezing the toothpaste tube or as complicated as determining how to handle the retirement account. In either case, we don’t need to be judgmental, just communicative and willing to negotiate and change as needed.

If we think some standard has been broken, we must decide whether or not it is up to us to enforce the standard. If we choose enforcement, how do we confront the wrong doer? Sometimes with our spouse even though an agreed-upon “standard” was broken it may be wise just to overlook it; our spouse may have simply forgotten or been neglectful.

We may both agree that dirty clothing shouldn’t be left on the floor. If the husband forgets one day and accidentally leaves the room without putting his dirty socks in the wash basket, should his wife criticize him or just pick up the socks and put them in the basket herself? Or maybe she should just leave them where they are and let him pick them up later? In either case, no big deal.

If we choose to confront our spouse about some “wrong” that has been committed, the basis for that judgment should be clear. Our action is simply to point out the difference between the rule and the words or actions. We can’t change other people, but there are times when we can help them recognize the need to change. We can also pray and ask God to intervene.

In marriages the challenge is to have the appropriate expectations and boundaries, developed through intimate communication, clearly understood and applied with unconditional love in a manner that honors your spouse.

The Family and Marriage Coalition of Aiken Inc. (FAMCO) provides resources for you to succeed in your marriage and families. Roger Rollins, executive director of FAMCO, 640-4689, rogerrollins@aikenfamco.com, www.aikenfamco.com.