May 052012

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.

5 Ways 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, you need to take a look at 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…

How 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?

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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.

criticism in marriage

“Ways to Cope With a Critical Husband” image by Laurie

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 How to Go on a Marriage Retreat Without Leaving Home helpful.

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If you have any thoughts on coping with a critical husband, please respond below. I can’t offer advice, but I can listen!

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  5 Responses to “5 Ways to Cope With a Critical Husband”

  1. 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.

  2. 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?

  3. 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!

  4. 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!


  5. 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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