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.
Read 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?
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.
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.
If you have any thoughts on coping with a critical husband, please respond below. I can’t offer advice, but I can listen!
I'm glad you're here! My name is Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen; my husband Bruce and I live in Vancouver, BC with our critters. We can't have kids, and are learning to accept whatever life brings - both good and bad. I have an MSW (Master of Social Work) from UBC, and degrees in Education and Psychology. I hope you say hello below - I can't give relationship advice, but writing can bring you clarity and insight.