How to Deal With a Spouse Who Constantly Criticizes You
The ideal marriage contains healthy communication between two partners, however, the capacity for these channels aren't always clear and open. The reality is every marriage experiences its challenges at times, and many of us have had to endure our mate's sarcastic remarks and/or complaining at least now and again. Unfortunately, some people are in situations where negative comments are consistently directed at them all the time.
Living with a spouse who seems to always find fault can be difficult and painful. It's important for your emotional and mental well-being to find ways of handling the situation. Regaining harmony is possible when both parties equip themselves with the tools to communicate clearly and respectfully.
Why Is My Spouse so Critical
It can be both helpful and hopeful to realize that most (if not all) of your spouse's critical comments has little to actually do with you. That may be hard to believe when the comments are always aimed in your direction. It is important to keep in mind that some people think their way is better while others genuinely believe that they are being helpful
The truth is that anyone who finds fault with others is usually unhappy with themselves and their own lives. They cope with these undesirable feelings by projecting them onto their partner. Perhaps your mate grew up with a critical parent and learned to communicate that way. Or maybe they are 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. 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.
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 be respectful of your feelings and to treat you with care. 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. Practice with the following strategies:
- Use "I" statements. This keeps the focus on you, and will sound less like an accusation leveled at the other person.
- Don't engage with your partner while they're irate. Don't try to talk them out of their mood, just inform them that you recognize that they are upset and will speak with them when they're more level-headed.
- 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.
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 most likely only keep you and your partner engaged in a painful conflict instead of helping each other move on.
Instead practice thinking objectively about each criticism your spouse gives. Determine if the critic is supposed to be constructive or destructive. Again, this is challenging to do just as the comment strikes, but at some point you must 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.
Depending on the context, sometimes it is best to let the remark pass rather then make a scene. Take a deep breath or a nice refreshing walk to give yourself a moment of clarity before confronting your partner.
Any fool can criticize, condemn, and complain but it takes character and self-control to be understanding and forgiving.— Dale Carnegie
The Pareve Response: Be Aware of How You React
One our most common reactions to attacks is the automatic fight or flight response. To fight is to literally provoke an argument by hurling a barb back at your spouse. Flight involves disengaging, whether by physically leaving the room, or pulling away emotionally. Both responses only serve to prolong the tension between you and your partner.
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 the other person while taking the time to calm down before addressing the criticism directly. These responses are kinder and more productive for both parties. They avoid engaging in power struggles and offer a refreshing approach to solutions instead. I have included example critical comments below as well as the appropriate 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."
"Where did you get that idiotic idea from?"
"Im not sure."
"You're messy. You need to get your act together."
"I've noticed that too."
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
When you are in a relationship with a critical partner—someone who constantly blames you and holds you to unrealistic standards—you may feel picked apart, unworthy, and unhappy. You may start to wonder if you’ll ever be good enough for your partner. This guide can help you repair your relationship by getting to the root of why your partner criticizes you so that you both can build a more loving and supportive partnership.
Excerpt from Amazon.
Critical Condition by James A. McMenis
Everyone, at some point, has dealt with negativity and criticism. Criticism is wreaking havoc in marriages, relationships and society. It is vital to understand the spirit of criticism, how it operates and the fruit it produces. In this book, Pastor James A. McMenis thoughtfully emphasizes just how dangerous a critical spirit can be when it spirals into anger and resentment.
Excerpt from Amazon.
I Hear Youby Michael S. Sorensen
Whether you’re looking to improve your relationship with your spouse, navigate difficult conversations at work, or connect on a deeper level with friends and family, this book delivers simple, practical, proven techniques for improving any relationship in your life.
Excerpt from Amazon.
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.
Even if your spouse won't attend, you can benefit greatly from talking things out with someone who understands the dynamics of a marriage. You can also learn more about your own patterns and responses. Just knowing someone else recognizes and empathizes with your struggle can give you encouragement.
Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) is a model that is effective in reducing the disconnect and the amount of distance in relationships. The approach examines the root cause of the issue that needs to be addressed in order to defuse negative cycles of criticism. The goal is to bring vulnerable feelings to the forefront. This involves creating a safe space for exploration of those tender parts of the brain and its corresponding feelings.
Marriage courses can also have positive effects on how you and your partner communicate.
What Not to Do When Dealing With Your Partner's Criticism
- Avoiding the Urge to Fight Back - Countering from a reactionary stance sends the message that there is something to prove to your spouse.
- Never Take the Blame for Your Partner's Unhappiness - Reclaim your identity by becoming less dependent on their approval.
- Don't Set Yourself Up to Be Criticized - Not delivering on promises and putting others down is a sure fire way to invite criticism (warranted or not.)
- Don't Focus Entirely on the Negatives - Obsessing over the negative will only compound the issues between you and your partner. Practice counter-balancing the negative with positive thoughts and tendencies.