How to Cope With a Critical Husband

Your husband criticizes everything you do, and nothing is ever good enough. These tips for coping with critical husbands begin with reassurance that if you’re criticized, you’re not alone.

How to Cope With a Critical HusbandRead Impossible to Please: How to Deal with Perfectionist Coworkers, Controlling Spouses, and Other Incredibly Critical People by Neil Lavender and Alan A. Cavaiola. A single article will never teach you all you need to know about coping with a critical husband. It’s important to learn how to be assertive and stand up for yourself, and my little blog post can’t teach you that!

“If you’re among those criticized, you’re in good company,” writes Dianna Booher in Communicate With Confidence. “Heads of state receive criticism, even though a majority of voters consider them worthy of high office. Religious leaders receive criticism, even if they’re living on bread on water to feed the poor. Celebrity athletes get booed when they don’t live up to their previous feats and track records. Movie stars are forgotten if their latest performance flops at the box office.”

The worst type of criticism comes from someone you love – and who is supposed to love you unconditionally. I don’t mind being criticized by my work supervisor, blog readers, or even my neighbors…but when my husband criticizes me, it stings. My first tip on coping with critical husbands is to read books about coping with critical, controlling people.

Can you take appropriate feedback? Can you offer feedback to your husband, with love and affection? If not, read Communicate With Confidence: How to Say it Right the First Time and Every Time is the best book I’ve ever read on interpersonal communication. It’s not just about giving and receiving criticism in marriage; it’s about communicating with anyone and everyone (work colleagues, frustrating family members, critical in-laws!). It’ll improve your relationships – it’s one of those books you need to own, and read every six months.

Here’s what Booher says about taking the sting out of negative feedback and coping with critical husbands…

5 Ways to Cope With a Critical Husband

When you’re reading these tips, remember that your spouse may not intentionally criticize you – but you hear criticism in everything she says! Sometimes that happens with me and my husband: I’ll say something that I think is innocent about, say, what parking space to park the car in…and he’ll take it as a personal criticism.

Are you super-sensitive to criticism? Are you hearing criticisms that don’t exist?

Determine whether criticism is intended to be constructive or destructive

“You can often tell whether a person intends to destroy you with a comment or intends to just bring about some change,” writes Booher in Communicate With Confidence. “Pay attention to the person’s word choice, emotion, and body language.”

Does your husband call you names (eg, “you’re lazy”) or comment on your behaviour (eg, “when you lie around all day and don’t help around the house, I feel frustrated”)? Does he have specific changes she’d like you to make, or does he just generally criticize everything you do? Is the subject of the criticism something you can change? Is your husband criticizing you in an attempt to control you, or to make you feel guilty?

It can be difficult to take a step back and determine if your husband’s criticisms are legit or not, but it’s an important distinction to make. If you’re in an unhealthy marriage, you may need to go beyond coping with criticism to finding the strength to leave a bad marriage. The best way to cope with a critical husband may be to leave him.

Think twice before you invite criticism

Booher says there are several surefire ways to set yourself up to be criticized: be unprepared, be poorly organized, put other people down, fail to do what you promise, ignore the rights of others, always demand your own way, being confrontational in tone or mannerisms, do sloppy work, disregard what is going on around you, and disregard the social norms of your environment.

It may seem like those ways to invite criticism are work-related, but they apply to your marriage and household life, too! For instance, if you’re disorganized and unprepared for a family gathering or important event, then you’re setting yourself up to be criticized by your spouse. If you continually do things you know will upset or frustrate your husband, then you’re inviting criticism.

Squelch the urge to counterattack with a criticism of your own

If your husband criticizes your friends, don’t counter with a criticism of his friends. If your husband attacks the way you clean the house, don’t counterattack with a rundown of how poorly he washes and waxes the car.

“Counterattack comes naturally,” writes Booher. “When the criticizer offers comments, you return the heat.” Instead of falling into the default attack mode, focus on the issue. Why is your husband criticizing you on this particular subject, in this particular way? If he’s just a jerk, then it’s time to start saving money for a divorce.

Consider the setting before you respond to your husband’s criticism

If your husband is criticizing you at a family gathering or where others are present, then it may be better to let the remark pass rather than make a scene. You don’t want to prolong the agony – yours or others’! Later, when you’re alone, you might say something like, “When you criticized my work in front of your parents, I felt embarrassed and hurt. Next time, could you bring it up with me alone so we can talk about it?”

Ask your husband how he would handle the situation

In marriage, it’s important not to just accept that different people do things differently, but to embrace it. For instance, if my husband criticizes how I clean the bathrooms, I might ask how he would do it. If he criticizes my habit of working on my blogs every second I get, I might ask how he would spend his free time.

How to Cope With a Critical Husband

How to Cope With a Critical Husband

Sometimes it helps to hear your partner’s perspective, and to accept that they would do it differently. You don’t have to change how you do things, but if you give your husband the chance to describe the “best” way, he may back off a little. And perhaps in trying to explain why her way is “better”, she may realize that it really doesn’t matter how it’s done. For example, as long as the dishes get done, does it matter how they’re rinsed and stacked in the dishwasher?

There are many factors that underlie criticism in marriage! This is a very brief, broad overview of how to cope with a critical partner. To get more in-depth information, read Communicate With Confidence. If you don’t feel love, read about loveless marriages – because that’s very different than criticism in marriage.

My husband and I are taking a marriage course – I highly recommend that if your husband is willing to work on your relationship. If not, you may find it helpful to read How to Get Help for Your Marriage.

If you have any thoughts on coping with a critical husband, please respond below. I can’t offer relationship advice or marriage counseling, but you might feel better after sharing your experience.

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18 Responses

  1. Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen says:

    Dear Lisa, thank you for your comment and insight! I especially admire your willingness to learn, and to improve yourself and your marriage.

    You’re right; there is less information on how to stop being critical. Much more info about how to cope with a critical spouse or criticism in marriage.

    I wrote this article to help you and all of us learn how to be less critical in our marriages:

    I hope it helps, and welcome your thoughts.

  2. Lisa says:

    My husband often accuses me of being critical of him, but I’m not doing it intentionally and I don’t see how I’m being critical. Everything written is written for people who need to deal with critical people, but I haven’t found anything written for critical people on how not to be critical. What advice can you give me? I’m willing to learn, I just need a teacher.

  3. Jenna says:

    These are some really great tips! My husband is a cynical, critical type of guy by nature. His father is the same way and he is following the same path.
    His father critiques his mother all the time. He goes back and forth between being affectionate and withdrawn. My husband is the same way.
    We are newly married with a baby. I feel my husband is a good provider and dependable. I am going to wait it out and continue to follow the tips for not inviting criticism. My husband ironically enough can’t handle critism at all.
    Our disagreements are about how to raise our son. How I feed the baby, etc.
    I just hate the withdrawing of love and affection when my husband feels he is right. He is just like the chip off the old block.

    • Karen says:

      I am sadden to hear your story. It reminds me a little of my marriage of 15 years. My husband is also very cynical and critical. His father was the same way as well. His mother either ignored or accommodated his constant criticism. My husband is also rude to his sisters and ignores his mother. Unfortunately, I saw some warning signs when we were dating and ignored them. That is my biggest regret. Now we have two boys (8 and 10) and my husband constantly criticizes and insults them. I have tried to reason with him, argue with him, and insist he to go to counseling but nothing as worked. The verbal and emotional abuse makes me sick. My husband and I have no emotional connection. I literally cannot stand to be around him. I wish I could leave with my boys, but he is so vindictive that he would make our divorce and co-parenting a nightmare. I believe he would be even more verbally abusive with my boys and I would not be there to stop him.

      Since you are newly married with a young child, I highly encourage you to insist that your spouse get counseling and change or you get out! You do not want to allow his behavior to continue because he will not stop and he will end up abusing your child/ren. Please take care of yourself and your baby.

  4. Helen says:

    To me this seems you are offering coping strategies for people who are being emotionally abused by their spouses.

  5. sunny says:

    My name is Sunny. I’ve married the love of my life 11 months ago. She is sweet, fun, loving, a crowd pleaser, confident, everything I want in a woman. We both have traditional families and therefore have not lived together until after we were married. She doesn’t take things too seriously, and has a passive technique to dealing with situations. I am the critical, over analyzing, hard working (always keeping myself busy), boring guy in the relationship (too black and white). I feel like I have the best ideas/solutions to a problem and everyone else around me is inferior. HOW CAN I LET THIS GO!? I don’t want to push her away in fact I want to nurture her so that she can feel on top of the world when in fact I bring her down in stressed out situations (because I am overly impatient and frusterated in these times). I don’t want to seek a counselor or psychiatrist to deal with my issues because I feel I should have the power to overcome it by my own willpower. I pray to God to give me the courage to change. It’s like “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” but I HAVE to for her. I love her deeply and it hurts me when I react this way. I always end up saying sorry and it becomes meaningless. Wish this loser some luck.

    • Trish says:

      Dear Heavenly Father,
      I thank -you for this couple you put together. Thank you, Holy Spirit, the humble and open attitude of this husband who clearly understands his wife’s sensitive nature and his own flaw of being hyper critical, especially when he is feeling frustrated and impatient. This revealation is a gift to them.
      Show him specially what else he can do when he senses that his mood is shifting into impatience and critical hard heartness. Give her awareness of this mood shift and how she can relate to him in those moments.
      Place others in their lives who have walked through dynamics similar who can support them both in their journey together.
      protect this Union from anything that seeks to destroy it. work in their hearts to bond them through this instead of letting it tear them apart”

      I have a husband very similar to you.

    • Trish says:

      Dear Heavenly Father,
      I thank -you for this couple you put together. Thank you, Holy Spirit, the humble and open attitude of this husband who clearly understands his wife’s sensitive nature and his own flaw of being hyper critical, especially when he is feeling frustrated and impatient. This revealation is a gift to them.
      Show him specially what else he can do when he senses that his mood is shifting into impatience and critical hard heartness. Give her awareness of this mood shift and how she can relate to him in those moments.
      Place others in their lives who have walked through dynamics similar who can support them both in their journey together.
      protect this Union from anything that seeks to destroy it. work in their hearts to bond them through this instead of letting it tear them apart”

      I have a husband very similar to you. I am blessed by your willingness to take responsibility for your critical spirit and not just blame her for not taking it the way you want her to, or judging her for being too sensitive. My husband knows outright blunt criticism is wrong and has began to try and package what he says in a manipulative wrapper , but I get the drift, because what he says doesn’t make sense.
      I too love my husband and pray we both can open our hearts and work it out, otherwise, I don’t want to stay in a marriage where I feel nit picked and judged unfairly when I make mistakes or need extra patience because I am going through something. I don’t do this to him.
      Praying for both of us, and your marriage.

    • Zelda says:

      You say you’ll do anything…but you won’t get counseling? So anything but counseling. That’s basically saying you won’t do anything. You are a human. Sometimes you will need help. God doesn’t just say “POOF, you are a better person” God wants you to do the work. That MAY mean reaching out and admitting you need help. Obviously, this is the root of your problem. You even are feeling superior to psychologists? Not trying to be rude but kinda just using your words. You practice at patience. If being patient came naturally to everyone then we’d have world peace. If she’s worth it then walk the road you chose when you married her and do what you said because that was very admirable saying that you want to lift her up, that was very sweet.

    • hannah says:

      Just keep praying and loving her, it’s okay to voice a concern or some criticism if you truly believe she could benefit and even while you’re still progressing still show her you love her because she’s not perfect and neither are you. My husband only speaks to me when he has something critical to say or anything that’s need to know information. Even with this I love him more than words can describe I don’t know how he seems very capable of cutting me out completely but for me I still want to work on our marriage but I think he’s done. So even if you critique Sunny if she knows it’s coming from a point of love and that you still love her she will be fine.

  6. Chien Timide says:

    Thanks! It’s nice when you look a topic up and find a source who has good, practical, and positive answers. I’m not in a relationship, nor do I want one at my age other than my pup, yet I was on the phone for over an hour yet another friend needing to vent, and way past my bedtime ;). Venting has it’s place, and I know advising isn’t my job, but gently suggesting something positive may keep me from feeling “Yuck” afterwards. I’m going to “borrow” your lovely way of approaching problems. And thanks, I feel better now 😀 !

  7. Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen says:

    One of the best ways to cope with a critical husband is to find external sources of support. I would talk to a counselor, and learn ways to deal with his statements and attacks. My tips for coping with criticism in marriage are good for general advice, but aren’t for specific situations.

    Talk to a counselor. Learn ways to cope with criticism – and how to NOT let your husband ruin your self-esteem or self-confidence.

    And, connect with God! If you are centered on His love, grace, compassion, forgiveness, and power….it won’t matter how critical your husband is. You will have a core of strength that won’t be shaken. God will help you know what to do about your marriage – and He would not want you to stay in a marriage that is critical or abusive.

  8. Justina says:

    My husband is a perfectionist and very critical. I opened an auto shop w/him, and I think I do good work, but nothing is ever up to par w/him. We have been together almost 5 years, but married only 2, and I am just about fed up. I love him very much, but we are two different personalities. He is smothering and I am independent. He is suffocating and I am hostile. We both have trust issues and our communication sucks .. We need help, but he doesn’t believe in doctors/counselors or medicine even. He is very co-dependant and I am the people pleaser.

  9. Curious cat says:

    I have a question. I am married to one of the best men in the world. He always wants to be with me. But, he criticizes my cooking, driving, way I dress and my family (granted they have been cruel to him and me). He no longer puts his arms around me in the kitchen or looks at me with lust. I realize we are both getting older, we just turned 50. Do I have anything to worry about. I have been feeling lonely lately.

  10. Laurie says:

    I’m sorry I missed your comment, fukyo! How did you deal with your critical husband? Did you leave him, or did he become less criticizing of you and your marriage?

  11. fukyo says:

    hi laurie, your post was very interesting. i live with an extremely critical/judgemental spouse. only thing is, he is NOT aware of it! he thinks he’s only trying to “help me”, but telling me to chew my food or criticizing me for not wiping the fingerprints off the cabinets (and millions of other things on a daily basis) is driving me to consider leaving him.
    seems like nothing i do is good enough. yet in his lucid moments he realizes how much i mean to him and how “perfect” i am. if he would only stop cutting me down with 3 out of 4 things he says.
    i’ve tried many times to bear it, support it, gently tell him to stop, angrily tell him to stop, criticize back and many other approaches. nothing works.
    i am near the end of my rope. ready to leave marriage.
    except i do love him, and wonder if i am throwing the baby out with the bath water…
    any enlightening thoughts on the matter?
    thank you!

  12. Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen says:

    Dear Nikki,

    I’m very sorry you feel lost, and that the marriage article made you cry! Is it because your husband is critical?

    Yes, you can tell me your story here. Sometimes writing can help you clarify your thoughts and figure out how you feel about stuff – and it can even help you find solutions. But, I can’t give you advice or tell you want to do in your life or marriage.

    Are you sure you can’t talk to someone in person – a friend or family member? I can’t believe they’ve all done you wrong in big ways…surely there is someone you can reach out to?

    I’m sorry I can’t be more helpful, but I think it’s really important that you reach out to someone in person. If you have no friends or family, please call a distress line or a free help line.

    And, please feel free to share your story here. I can’t give you marriage or life advice, but as I said, sometimes it helps to just share how you feel!


  13. nikki says:

    I have read some of your tips on marriages and being criticized and i found them very intrusting…The marriage one made me cry i must admit, because i do not know what to do almost everything on there is happening or has been for a while. I was just wondering if i could tell you my story and see if you would beable to maybe give me some tips.. I do not know what to do anymore i do not have money i have 2 children both 3 and 6 months, i have no one to talk to because they have all done me wrong in big ways… please help me i feel so lost.

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