Does your spouse criticize the way you eat, sleep, or breath? These tips for coping with criticism in marriage will help smooth the rough spots.
“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 is that which comes from someone you love. I don’t mind being criticized by my work supervisor, blog readers, or even my neighbors…but when my husband criticizes me, it stings like a bee.
Can you take criticism? Can you criticize your spouse with love and affection? If not, you need to take a look at Communicate With Confidence.
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…
5 Ways to Cope With a Critical Spouse
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 partner 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 she have specific changes she’d like you to make, or does she just generally criticize everything you do? Is the subject of the criticism something you can change? Is your partner 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 spouse’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.
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 partner, then you’re inviting criticism.
Squelch the urge to counterattack with a criticism of your own
If your spouse criticizes your friends, don’t counter with a criticism of her friends. If your spouse attacks the way you clean the house, don’t counterattack with a rundown of how poorly she 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 partner criticizing you on this particular subject, in this particular way?
Consider the setting before you respond to your spouse’s criticism
If she 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 spouse how she 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.
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 spouse the chance to describe the “best” way, she 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.
If you have any thoughts on coping with a critical partner, please respond below.