How to Deal With a Spouse Who Constantly Criticizes You
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 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.
Arm Yourself With Knowledge
One of the best ways to take care of yourself in a difficult situation is to understand it better. There are lots of books available that can help you start to make sense of what is happening in your marriage and what you can do. Here are a couple of titles you could read:
- The Critical Partner by Michelle Skeen, PsyD
- Critical Condition by James A. McMenis
Be Aware of Your Choices and of 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.
"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.
An internet search on "Communication in Marriage" will provide many good articles to guide you. I Hear You by Michael S. Sorensen is a book that goes into more detail about how to connect in a more positive, clear way.
How Do You Handle Criticism?
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.