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When Your Wife Criticizes Your Driving

Does your wife caution you to slow down, pass that car, take a different route, keep up with traffic, stop riding that bumper? Does she wince, grab the dashboard, brace her feet, check the side mirror?

And does it make you wonder why in the world she agreed to marry someone she trusts so little? Does it make you feel like a kid with a learner's permit again? Especially if you have been driving accident free for years?

Assume Love. If you are loved and respected as much as ever by this woman—and you probably are—what would lead her to behave like this? If she does not do it out of distrust, what other reasons are there?


  1. Anxiety - With nothing to do but watch the road, she has plenty of time to imagine the worst happening. Withdrawing or getting angry will increase her anxiety. Try some tender distraction. You might even add occasional reminders that her safety is very important to you.

  2. Misunderstanding - Men are far more attuned to distrust or lack of respect than woman are, thanks to our hormones. Let her know this affects you and ask her to speak up only when there is imminent danger. And try to keep in mind that her biochemistry leaves her highly attuned to any lack of affection.

  3. Habit - If she is raising or teaching children, she may just be in the habit of critiquing. To break the habit, respond as an adult—a loving, kind, patient man.


Looking at a problem through your spouse's eyes gives you the power to change the situation and the compassion to strengthen your relationship as you do.

Comments

I really thought I'd like this article after reading the first three paragraphs, but I was wrong. It seems to put all the blame on the wife and no accountability on the husband. What if her feelings are legit because of his driving skills? I'm truly disappointed with this post.

I am sorry to disappoint you, Heather. My advice is the same if her feelings are legit. In fact, I wrote the post knowing that those feelings are almost always legit. So here's my advice to the women doing the criticizing.

Unless he's still learning to drive, and doesn't yet have enough experience to know whether his driving style is one that leads to accidents, fines, and jail time or not, criticism is not likely to change how your husband drives -- and it IS likely to add tension to your rides with him and negatively affect your relationship out of the car.

I suggest you let him know (once or maybe twice) how certain practices affect you, without criticizing an experienced driver for choosing to use them. For example, I told my husband while we were still dating that I panic at short stopping distances between cars ever since I was at the back of a 5-car pileup at just 30 mph and saw what even a slow-speed crash did to my car and my body.

Although every driving manual says to leave a car length for every 10 mph of speed, my husband learned to drive on highways where every gap between cars is immediately filled by a reckless lane-changer, posing an even greater danger than the short stopping distance. I know it takes conscious effort to leave a gap for me; it feels less safe to him. But he does, to reduce my anxiety. And when we're driving where he learned to drive or in someplace similar, I shut my eyes and daydream or sing, knowing he's done this a thousand times before and is definitely concerned with my safety.

Which is not to say there aren't some driving practices that are truly unsafe for every driver -- driving while intoxicated or nodding off, night driving with advanced cataracts, driving in congested areas or at high speeds with impaired reaction times, driving with a suspended license or no insurance, etc. There is absolutely no point in criticizing these. Just don't get into the passenger's seat. Drive the car yourself, find alternate transportation, or stay home.

If you get in the car and criticize, you raise the tension level, which is itself a contributing factor to an accident. You reduce the affection your husband feels for you. You unbalance your relationship, making yourself the wise and knowing one, which will lead your husband to either shut you out and withdraw or play king-of-the-hill with you to get back to a sustainable balance. And if you have kids in the car, you raise their anxiety levels and damage their opinion of their father or, perhaps, their mother.

I was a limo driver for 34 years and my wife was a teacher.Now we are retired and should be enjoying our golden years.However whenever we get into the car we have the most horrific fights over my driving ability.She also drives and I am not allowed to criticize her driving which is fine with me.How can I get her to stop complaining about my driving?The tension in the car is so bad I often think about crashing the car.But I am able to control my thoughts.Please someone help us.

You need a Third Alternative to her complaints or your crashing the car (or arguing with her complaints while staying on the road.

A Third Alternative is one that makes BOTH of you as happy as each of your original options does. Your wife is obviously anxious when you drive (unless you know of another issue between you two that comes out as driving complaints because it's something she can't deal with directly). You, I assume, are insulted by her second-guessing all you learned and successfully employed in your long driving career (unless you're driving under the influence and arguing because you're embarrassed to have poor control over the car).

If there's an unspeakable issue, find a marriage counselor or clergy member. If you're driving when you shouldn't be, and it's pushing you to the point of thinking about crashing the car, go see the good folks at a local AA meeting. But if it's just the usual anxiety vs. self-esteem conflict, you need a Third Alternative to preserve your marriage.

Your Third Alternative is something that allows your wife to express her anxiety about driving without insulting you. And the way you get there is by telling her you really want to make her calmer while she's in the car, but you cannot do it while being criticized, so it's time to find a better way.

Here are some suggestions. Maybe one will suit the two of you.

(1) Have her carry a notebook and silently write down what's alarming her. When you reach the end of your ride, give her a hug and thank her for helping you feel like a professional driver with a precious passenger again. Once a week, away from the car and by yourself, read what she's written.

See if you can figure out any changes in your driving that would be okay with you and lessen her worry. My husband, for example, learned to drive in a place where bumper-to-bumper driving was the norm, but I'd been in a pile-up accident, and my blood pressure soars when I see a bumper close enough to trigger those memories. Once he realized my worries have nothing to do with his driving skill, he began leaving more room when I'm in the passenger seat. And when we're in a place where that's not feasible, he asks me to close my eyes, and I do, because I trust his long track record.

(2) Invite your wife to sing a silly song out loud when she's feeling anxious. You join in and raise the volume. There's something about singing at a good volume that calms anxiety. At the end of each ride, remind her that getting her to the destination safely is your top priority. Touch her arm as you say this or give her a kiss before or after. It makes a physiological difference. Then ask her what led to her singing and thank her for telling you. No reply needed, because it's no longer a driving issue. It's time for being her comforter.

(3) Give her a choice between riding without complaint in your car or driving her own car. Let her know the reason is because you cherish her so much more when she's by your side as your beloved wife wherever you're headed than when you get there thinking of her as yet another supervisor, post-retirement. (A teacher will definitely understand this one.)

(4) Let her drive, because you're better at managing your emotions.

Pick the one that makes BOTH of you feel good about the outcome.

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Patty Newbold is a widow who got it right the second time...

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