Dealing with an overly critical spouse can be both challenging and painful. Though it may seem daunting, it’s important for your overall health to handle the situation with great care.

The first place to begin?

Simply to step back from it all. You don’t need to physically leave your relationship or even your home. Rather, try to examine the criticism and its effects on you from the outside looking in. This may be tricky at first, so here are a few tips on how to better cope with an overly critical spouse.

Understand the Rut

Two of the most common responses to criticism, especially from a spouse, are to fight back or to withdraw from the situation. Both responses are surefire ways to get stuck in a deep and negative relationship rut.

Coping with an overly critical spouse means understanding this rut and actively avoiding conversations that get you stuck.

Answering vitriol with vitriol sends your relationship into a downward spiral of rejection, whereas withdrawing can lead to feelings of abandonment. The cycle will undoubtedly continue until you recognize it and wrap your mind around what’s truly happening.

Avoid the Counterattack

As mentioned before, the instinct to fight back against criticism is intense. Remember that the counterattack is counterproductive.

Withdrawal–the other most common response to criticism–isn’t your only option either.

Rather, try to answer your spouse, being sure to do it in a way that remains neutral. Especially to the criticism that your spouse just directed your way. For instance, should your spouse say they wish you were more like so and so, you could simply respond by saying that you don’t like comparisons.

Hear Them Out

Often criticism is the only way your spouse knows how to communicate their needs. Instead of firing back at their criticism, try to hear them out.

Ask your spouse what they would do different or how they would handle the situation they just criticized you for handling.

It’s not that you necessarily want to know their opinion or will take their advice. Sometimes just listening to how they would do it seems to help quiet critics. It’s possible that your partner’s criticism is a twisted cry for validation.

Hear Beyond the Criticism

Having a spouse that is overly critical much of the time can feel like a constant attack. The funny thing about criticism is that it’s not always meant to harm you. Really, sometimes it’s not even about you.

Consider this: Maybe your spouse’s parents were overly critical, too. That could be a valid reason any attempt at communication translates into critique.

It could also be that your spouse has issues from the past that are still haunting them. Although criticism feels very personal, its origins are usually worth exploring.

Establish Personal Boundaries

Personal boundaries are standards you set that teach others how to treat you. These boundaries are vital to nurturing healthy relationships.

When criticism goes too far or becomes too harsh and painful, you can draw a line in the sand.
You don’t have to surrender to things like name calling, shouting, vicious verbal attacks, etc. Your spouse has the responsibility of treating you with love and care. If their behavior is tearing down your self-esteem at lightning speed, then it’s time to set more strict personal boundaries.

Take the first step…

If you’re ready to take a step toward changing your life and relationship for the better, I would like to help. Please contact me by phone or email so we can discuss how we might work together to achieve your therapeutic goals as quickly and effectively as possible.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Linda K. Laffey, MFT

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