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How to Deal With a Spouse Who Constantly Criticizes You

Updated on June 23, 2016
Do you have a critical spouse?
Do you have a critical spouse? | Source

Every marriage is challenging at times. And we all hear our mate's grumbling or complaining now and again. But what if the negative comments come all the time? And what if they're directed at you?

Living with a spouse who seems to always find fault can be a very difficult and painful. It's important for your emotional and mental health to find ways of handling the situation.

Why Is Your Spouse So Critical?

It can be helpful and hopeful to realize that most if not all of your spouse's criticizing has little to do with you. That may be hard to believe when the comments are usually aimed in your direction. But the truth is that anyone who finds fault with others is first unhappy with themselves and their lives.

Perhaps your mate grew up with a critical parent and learned to communicate that way. Or maybe he or she is carrying unspoken resentments or regrets around from years ago.

If your spouse is mature enough to look in the mirror and admit the true reasons for the anger, your marriage will change for the better. But if not, you still need to understand the dissatisfaction is most likely not about what you do or don't do. And if you weren't there, chances are someone else would be hearing comments.

How You Can Deal With the Criticism

Be Aware of Your Choices in How You React

Our most common responses include fight and flight. To fight is to literally provoke an argument by, say, hurling a barb back at your spouse. Flight is disengaging, whether by physically leaving the room, or pulling away emotionally. Both responses only serve to prolong the tension between you.

A better choice to try is what author Yehudis Karbal calls the Pareve Response - a method of acknowledging the comment your spouse makes, while remaining neutral yourself. It shows you are listening to another person, while taking time to calm down before addressing the criticism.

Using the Pareve Response

Critical Comment
Pareve Response
"You don't keep this house clean enough."
"You may be right."
"We have to get a newer car."
"That's something to think about."
"I wish you were more like my mom/dad."
"I don't like doing comparisons."

Take a Step Back From Your Immediate Feelings

It's hard to separate from strong emotions, especially negative ones. But speaking or acting out from a place of hurt will probably only keep you both engaged in a painful moment instead of helping each other move on.

Think Objectively About Each Criticism Your Spouse Gives

Again, this is challenging to do just as the comment strikes. But at some point consider if the critique is justified at all. Honestly evaluate the situation and your part in it. Ask yourself whether you're doing anything, intentionally or not, that might irritate your mate or make him or her feel disrespected.

Quick Poll

How Do You Handle Criticism?

See results

Set Boundaries for Yourself

When all is said and done, there's no excuse for bad behavior. Your spouse has a responsibility to treat you with care. And when that doesn't happen, it's time for you to take action on your own behalf.

It's been said that setting healthy personal boundaries is like building a strong fence around your house. It keeps your property safe. Part of taking care of yourself is not letting anyone take away your sense of self-esteem. That's where boundaries come in.

Setting boundaries doesn't mean shutting other people out of your life. It simply means that you will be thoughtful about who and what behaviors you allow in to save yourself from unnecessary hurt. If you are faithful to sustain your "fence", it will teach both you and your mate a more healthy way to live.

How To Communicate Your Boundaries

Clearly setting boundaries can be hard. But with practice you can learn.

  • Use "I" statements. This keeps the focus on you, and will sound less like an accusation leveled at the other person.
  • Use a softer tone. if you yell or cry, your spouse may only hear the emotion and miss the point you want to make.
  • Stay positive. Setting a boundary might not feel good right away, but it is a healthy thing to do for both of you.
  • Don't try to force the outcome. Your words might be received well, or your mate could react with anger. That is not your responsibility. Be sensitive but stay firm.

Consider Getting Professional Help, Ideally as a Couple

Counseling can be a terrific source of support for anyone going through a hard time. Another set of eyes and ears could bring you and your mate new understanding about his or her critical nature.

But even if your spouse won't attend, you can benefit greatly from talking things out with someone who understands the dynamics in marriage. You can learn more about your patterns and responses. And just knowing someone else knows and cares about your struggle can give you encouragement.


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    • Seeker7 profile image

      Helen Murphy Howell 4 years ago from Fife, Scotland

      This is a very interesting hub indeed! I think we can all identify with reactions that this hub highlights as all relationships go through sticky patches. Having said that it must be awful to have to put up with being critisised constantly and must wear people out who are experiencing this.

      I love the idea of the Pareve Responses and keeping everything neutral. I'm sure this would help to diffuse a lot of negative emotions. I also loved the 'fence' idea. It's an interesting way to protect yourself but also, as you say, without shutting people out.

      Great hub + voted up + shared!

    • Heather63 profile image

      Heather Adams 4 years ago from Connecticut, USA

      Hi Helen! I have to admit that I don't always react well to criticism, so I want to start using neutral responses when it happens. And I too sympathize with anyone who has to handle continuous negativity, whether from a spouse or other family member.

    • peachpurple profile image

      peachy 4 years ago from Home Sweet Home

      i hate my spouse critizes and the worst part is I CANNOT make any response at all. If i response to his critizes, he will say"Do you want a divorce ? Do you want to get chase out of this house????" So, every time, I have to keep mum and swear at him in my heart. Bad case, isn't it?

    • peachpurple profile image

      peachy 4 years ago from Home Sweet Home

      i hate my spouse critizes and the worst part is I CANNOT make any response at all. If i response to his critizes, he will say"Do you want a divorce ? Do you want to get chase out of this house????" So, every time, I have to keep mum and swear at him in my heart. Bad case, isn't it?

    • Heather63 profile image

      Heather Adams 4 years ago from Connecticut, USA

      Hi peachpurple - my heart goes out to you in your situation. I hope you have a good friend or confidante to share your feelings with, so you don't feel isolated. And be sure to take care of yourself each day - you're worth it!!

    • twig22bend profile image

      twig22bend 4 years ago

      Some people play on your weaknesses ,and kind of bully you because they know what your response will be, if any. There is a fear of their reactions if we are honest in our reply.

      Baby steps are needed in this case. Be honest with yourself and think of what you are frightened of when you respond honestly to your spouse.

      Everyone is looking for some backbone in a person.. This is not recommended for an abusive situation. Tiny steps are needed at this point to gain the respect that you deserve.

      The outlandish questions, such as" do you want a divorce is, no. " I am just trying to tell you how I feel about your remarks.

      If we can learn to deal and conquer our own fears, others will not be able to play on them.

    • newjerusalem profile image

      victor 3 years ago from India

      Reacting well to the hurting criticisms is one of the most toughest tasks. Perhaps, you have done excellently well in dealing with this serious issue. Keep writing. God bless you.

    • profile image

      Heather63 3 years ago

      Hi newjerusalem! Thanks for your comments. You're right about criticisms - they hurt, no matter how well we want to handle them.

    • profile image

      veronica oconner 3 years ago

      It Is So Hard To Deal With Everyday Criticism From Your husband. Can't understand how someone could deliberately hurt another person.

    • profile image

      Heather63 3 years ago

      Hi Veronica - Criticizing wears us down and eats away at our self-esteem if we're not careful. Unfortunately, I think some people who do that have been victims of criticism themselves, maybe even growing up in a household where that is a form of communication. And unless the cycle is broken, they pass it on. I hope if you're dealing with this that you're getting good support, both with the way you think about and treat yourself, and with the help of friends and family!

    • profile image

      Sam 2 years ago

      My wife is born to find fault in others, especially in me, bring back old events which she has consented to do, like loaning money to our friend.

      When the friend can't pay back as promised, she will torment me every day 'why did you give him the loan"? She will never say sorry in life, but torment others. I taught her to drive and whenever she is driving, I never tell her, how to drive. But, whenever I am driving with her, she will question me constantly 'why you follow that car, why you are slow, did you check the side etc etc. It is nothing but hell to travel or stay with anybody who is finding nothing good, but only fault.

    • profile image

      Heather63 2 years ago

      Hi Sam. It sounds like you are facing a big challenge - how to live with someone you've vowed to love who doesn't show that to you or, it sounds like, to anyone. I'm really sorry to hear about your struggle. Remember how important it is to take care of yourself - especially having family and friends around you who can offer support and encouragement. And know that you, as well as your opinions and views, are worthy of respect. I am wishing all the best for you.

    • profile image

      PSW 2 years ago

      This is what I hear from my wife. A LOT. Sometimes every day!

      "You're a good provider....but"

      "You don't know how to paint cut lines"

      "You don't know how to mud(spackle)"

      "Your driving skills......"

      "You take too long"

      "Your cooking....."

      "The way you clean....."

      Those are things off the top I can quickly think of.

      My question is, is this criticism, nagging or do I just need to block it all out? Because this is all the time! And it's a lot of "no" and "ehhh" with shoulder shrugs. I also cannot think of a conversation that I have with my wife where I DON'T hear "yea, but" or "well"

      I cannot even explain my job in plain simple logic that she can understand and she STILL talks like she has all the answers! I just want to blow my brains out! Seriously. Because I used to be a real laid back guy.

      Anyone here have any advice, comments, criticisms?(I hear enough of those)

    • Heather63 profile image

      Heather Adams 2 years ago from Connecticut, USA

      Hi, PSW - thanks so much for sharing. My first response to you is yes, your wife is being critical. It would be easier in some ways if you could just ignore her. But that won't help either of you or your marriage in the long run.

      I guess the question I would ask is "why is she like that?". She may mistakenly think she's helping you by giving you pointers. If you haven't yet, you could certainly tell her that isn't helpful at all and why. That might open up a helpful conversation about how you both could communicate in a healthier way. If she can't or won't have that talk, at least you've tried.

      From what you've said, it also sounds like she's a little on the negative side in regular conversation - do you think that's just part of her personality? Or could there be something going on (not about you, at least directly) that's keeping her frustrated?

      I used to be quite negative myself, and wrongly aimed it at my husband. It took some honest self-reflection on my part to realize why I was like that. And I had to admit that I was responsible for the thoughts and beliefs that were upsetting me so much. That was the start of better things.

      I understand your frustration with the way things are. It's tiring and discouraging to live that way. But it's possible that with some gentle prodding and good listening on your part, the care you show will invite her to let down and open up to you. And that can lead to a deeper, stronger bond. I encourage you not to give up yet!

    • profile image

      sghost 17 months ago

      My wife (she is 9 years older to me) sees nothing good in me. She is like always finding fault, never giving me the space i need to breath easy. i dont know what to do...i never seem to make her happy at all. When we do have sex its good and she says that she has enjoyed it but its so complex that she never makes the first move. She is also paranoid, always feeling insecure. I feel like hanging myself. Any help please?

    • Heather63 profile image

      Heather Adams 17 months ago from Connecticut, USA

      Hi sghost - thanks for writing. Do you have anyone you can confide in? It sounds like you're really needing support at this point, and it's totally understandable. As I wrote, getting counseling, ideally for both of you together, is a great step toward healing and change for the bettr. Would you be willing to give that a try? Would your wife?

    • ValKaras profile image

      Vladimir Karas 11 months ago from Canada

      I don't have a personal experience with being criticized by my wife (in 51 years of marriage), but if I had, I am always for a VERY direct approach, no beating around the bush. I would make it VERY clear that I am no one's pushover, and I won't tolerate that kind of treatment. If she ever blackmailed me with a divorce, I would pack up right on the spot and disappear. To me marriage is not a place for disrespect. If I am not respected by the person that is sharing my life, I am not interested in her or him. LOVE IS A TWO-WAY STREET - period.

      By my book, there is absolutely nothing to "discuss", because love is not open for discussion - it either exists or it doesn't. To me it would be a pleasure to teach such a spouse a lesson. No arguments, no begging, no tears, no tactics - just a simple cold announcement that I won't tolerate such treatment. It's a simple matter of self-respect, and I don't owe anybody an explanation "why I prefer to be respected by others as well".

      If they don't get it - tough luck. I simply couldn't keep loving a person who keeps lowering me down all the time, while he/she is supposed to love me. I never heard of this version of "love".

      Well, that's me. I don't play games with people, I like them to know where I stand. And I mean "stand" on my both feet and look them in the eye.

    • profile image

      Heather63 11 months ago

      Hello, ValKaras. I appreciate you sharing your viewpoint on this issue.

    • profile image

      Ace Tracker 9 months ago

      I have lived with a major criticizer for 22 years! (Help)

      I'm sure I'm not the only one that lives with a criticizer that can't control herself.

      I love my wife and I've overlooked it far to long, now I really need help in dealing with this issue.

      From TV shows, movies, the news, people at the park, at the ball field etc etc, I'm sure you get my point.

      Theirs not a day or pretty much a hour that passes that my wife doesn't have some criticizing remark about something. I can't watch the news with her because the way the reporters are reporting causes a drama from hell.

      Today we were watching a kids show on Netflix, The Good Dinosaurs and the dinosaurs had built a silo out of rock to put the corn in, then they go to pick the corn and here it comes, I don't understand why they can build all these things but they can't build something to haul the corn in.

      Wait a minute, this is a kid show and you have to criticize that. I didn't say a word???

      Listen, she has a criticizing comment with most everything that is said, show, written, sung, typed, drawn, produced etc. This women is perfect in her own mine and truly believes that 99% of the time she is totally correct.

      She did grow up in a rather pronounced critical family, her grandfather was always right, her mom would criticize most everything, however she held her tongue around me after a year or 2. Here sister running on the same track so it runs in the family.

      She will dog me out to our children just to make herself look better or feel better or something. However she is in total denial of such a thing and would never do that. My older children can clearly see this issue and we have discussed, but its very uncomfortable for them and myself. Help!

    • Heather63 profile image

      Heather Adams 9 months ago from Connecticut, USA

      Hello, Ace Tracker, thanks for sharing what I'm sure is a difficult situation.

      The good news is that you are aware that this is a habit of hers, maybe even as you say "handed down" from her own family. It's good in the sense that you don't feel responsible for her words or observations - she is choosing to have this kind of attitude.

      I think one of the most important things for you is not to join in with her, even just to keep the peace. And that can be hard to resist, I'm sure.

      I've heard of people in your place making the decision to respond to negative comments with a positive ones. It can be hard at times, especially if the other person doesn't seem to notice. But if you can stay positive, you'll give your kids a great example of love in action. And who knows - your wife may start to wonder what you're up to. That might lead to a conversation between you where you can honestly share your concerns.

      Take care of yourself and stay focused on the good things as much as possible. I wish you all the best!

    • profile image

      sticking this out 5 months ago

      I have been married for 30 years and finally have the self-esteem and where-with-all to not be passive any more. Yesterday I had 3 put-downs in an hour and called him on each one. He really does it so much he has no idea he's doing it. I realized after reading numerous journal entries that my anger and resentment was palpable and I needed to be healthy for me! Therefore, no more pass card. I am sick and tired of being criticized about anything and everything he happens to feel like criticizing. Amen!

    • Heather63 profile image

      Heather Adams 5 months ago from Connecticut, USA

      Sticking this out,

      I'm so glad to hear you say you have the self-esteem to set healthy boundaries. And it sounds like you are trying to be clear and firm in the way you communicate them. Now, make sure to build a good support system for yourself to get the encouragement you need as you go forward. I wish you all the best!

    • profile image

      Frank 2 months ago

      So basically, if you're getting nagged, suck it up, you really are to blame. And don't try to fix the criticizer or make them take responsibility.

    • profile image

      Beaten but still ticking 8 weeks ago

      I was brought up in a household with an emotionally abusive mother and then married another emotionally abusive person. They passed away and now I'm remarried to an overly critical individual. When we argue, it's like arguing with a 2 year old and it's like a vicious circle. They become hyper critical, sarcastic, and condescending. They were't like this for the first 3 years of the relationship but over the last 2 years, they've started becoming more critical. Especially, after my 2 children have become highly successful and worthy of brag rights. The other two, not so much. One of them is doing well for themselves but not on the same level as my two. I never compare any of the kids, but I'm not allowed to comment on the two step children but my spouse is hyper critical of my kids. Again, I'm not allowed to have a comment about the other two.

      As far as the part of our lives without children, it seems I'm under a microscope much of the time and even if I accidentally hit a curb with the car, there's a negative comment. Whereas before, they were loving, attentive, and supportive. They are still supportive in most ways, but overly critical in others. It's become so pervasive, I've started seeking therapy.

      I was seeing a psychiatrist for ADD and she met with both of us. She commented several times about her jealousy of me and my successful children. Any advice?

    • profile image

      Confy 6 weeks ago

      I never had imagined that one day i would go through this situation na dwould like to express my emotions here.

      I am a very simple girl who rarely critisises anybody. Even the worst act by anybody , i just do one thing, encourage and tell the true in very soft manner.

      But I got a husband who is just opposite , he knows only to ccritise me all the times. I have and am still trying to make my life stble. But the most important person in my life is only creating the stress in my life. He does not look into what he does day and night. But has a deep eye on what i do. Just does not leave any occasion to comment on my work, my ideas, my thoughts, my daily activity.

      It all starts and ends in the tpoic "Why my wife wkes up late" .

      Actually i get up 7 to 7:30. and keep working until night 12 or 12 :30 .

      But once i get up i am on my way doing all my duties. What my husband does is "Just commenting things like ....oh you are so slow , thing are not getting done on time.. You are this You are that" .

      This is something I lsiten everyday from him.

      I know this is a challenge for me , but I am taking this positively. I would make my life stable and peaceful.

    • profile image

      Evoeh65 4 weeks ago

      Serenity. Courage and Wisdom are what I practice every day. I am criticized daily by my wife.

      I am an ex felon and recovering addict (18 yrs). My wife was in a terrible relationship before I met her. Verbal and emotional abuse were things that she experienced on a daily basis.

      I do my best not to personalize her remarks towards me. She is 12 years younger than me and we grew up in different times.

      My parents were loving but strict. Hers were argumentative and alcoholic. We have a beautiful daughter together as well as a 17 yr old son and my 28 yr old son I found out about 6 years ago.

      Marriage is difficult but doable if both parties are giving 100 percent. It will not work if it is only 50/50.

      Thank you for sharing your experience with me. It helps

    • profile image

      BreakingFree2017 8 days ago

      Hi Heather! My fiancé keeps criticizing me about my weight, my choices and the way I do things.

      He constantly reminds me that I am gaining weight and that I have to exercise. He bugs me and makes derogatory comments when I don’t exercise. I am extremely busy being a working mom working 7 days a week that’s why the only time left for me is for chores and to take care of the family.

      Whenever I do something my way and not his way, he will criticize me for it and make me feel that I am wrong. Same thing goes when I choose or like something that he does not like.

      He complains that we argue a lot, that is because I don’t let him treat me that way and I always tell him to back off when he is treating me like that. Then he will say I am just making excuses and he is just helping me. I told him that I am a grown woman and that there is nothing wrong with who I am, what I like and how I do things. Then he gets irritated saying that I am always blaming him and making him look like he’s always wrong. I explained to him several times that it’s not my intention, I just need to let him know how I feel with the way he treats me and as a couple, we have to be open and honest about that. But he never understood it. He still gets mad whenever I stand up for myself and I told him that ain’t gonna stop me because being criticized all the time is already degrading as it is and I am not letting myself drown in insecurity just to save a relationship. I am a mother and I need to keep my strength and confidence because my daughter needs me and she depends on me physically and emotionally.

      I do my responsibilities, I take care of him and my daughter, always making sure that they eat right and got everything they need. I work 7 days a week to make sure all bills are taken care of (he pays the rent and I pay all the bills). So I don’t see any reason why he should treat me that way. I don’t want to be the one wearing the pants in the relationship, I prefer treating and seeing each other as equal and with respect for each other’s individuality.

      I would greatly appreciate your advice. Thank you.

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