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How to Deal with Critical Spouse

How do you deal with an overly critical spouse, and what does one look like?

What is a Critical Husband or Wife?

Criticism refers to an overzealous inclination to nitpick and pass judgment on others relentlessly.

Criticism threatens:

  • self-esteem
  • self-confidence
  • sense of well-being

A hypercritical or overly critical spouse consistently focuses on what their spouse is doing wrong, is offensive and disrespectful, and seldom has anything positive to say. Their criticism is difficult to ignore and is exuded in their tone of voice, body language, and facial expressions.

Critical spouses use criticism and reactivity as a defense mechanism, especially when they feel threatened or devalued.

Also, critical individuals often have a history of being criticized in early childhood; The childhood trauma eventually incorporates into their budding self-concept and sense of identity.

Moreover, critical spouses are often just as hard on themselves as they are on their partners. However, they are coercive and seek control.

Reasons Why Your Spouse is Critical

Individuals can be critical for several reasons:

  • The learned mechanism for coping with distress
  • Perfunctory reaction to anticipated rejection
  • Misinterpretation of being attacked by their spouse


Individuals could become well-versed in critical language if they grew up in a judgmental and disparaging childhood environment. They still shoulder heavy anger and resentment from that tenuous period.

Criticism can be devastating for a child. They do not have the cognitive or developmental ability to distinguish criticism of their behaviors from the rejection of the self.

A child consistently criticized will begin to equate themselves to a wrong person and self-criticize. Therefore, causing pain to themself before anyone else can do so. Additionally, condemned children have no choice but to remain emotionally attached to the very caregivers who criticize them.

As time passes, the child begins to imitate what they have grown up with, as it is all they know. Additionally, as to criticizing themselves, they begin to blame others.

Past Relationships

Individuals can also display negative behavior if they were hurt in past relationships to protect them from further hurt. In an uncontrollable world, spouses may criticize to control something tangible in their lives, which is severely misdirected. If they have control, they feel empowered.

When speaking about criticism, Irish poet Oscar Wilde stated, “Criticism is the only reliable form of autobiography.”

The fact is that a spouse’s criticism has more to do with their unhappiness than with any discontent that their spouse might be causing them.

If you can gain insight into why and how your spouse became so critical, you will be better able to develop empathy and understanding of their issues and behaviors.

 Ways to Deal with a Critical Spouse

Wife Being Criticized by Husband

John Gottman, a leading researcher on marital relationships, found that criticism is a significant forecaster of divorce and marriage volatility. Gottman’s research found that criticism forecasts divorce with over 90% accuracy.

When individuals are criticized by their spouses, they either attempt to stand up for themselves or create physical distance between them.

Individuals will hurl criticisms like tiny grenades or hide behind a ten-foot emotional wall. Even if one can somehow ignore their partner’s complaints, there is a tendency to allow criticism to seep quietly in, dismantling their self-esteem one piece at a time.

How Criticism Affects Marriage

Marriage is a universal symbol of unconditional love, unwavering support, and wholehearted acceptance.

Nevertheless, criticism is paradoxical to the very foundation of what marriage represents, as spouses are tearing each other apart instead of showing patience, judging instead of understanding, and bold instead of kind.

The criticized spouse often feels increasingly resentful, angry, and restricted, while the critical partner begins to feel threatened and immediately attempts to exert more control through criticism and blame. Hypercriticism is never functional and only forces acquiescence and diminishment.

Engaging in self-reflection and maintaining a close connection with your feelings is essential. You try to remain positive and do your best, only to be criticized and picked apart at every turn. Being charged is like being beaten into the ground with a giant hammer, relentlessly striking you again and again into submission.

This cannot be very comfortable, especially if it is done in front of your children or front of other friends and family members.

The Connection Between Critical Spouses and Mental Health

Although challenging, a strong focus needs to center around your self-esteem and confidence. Now that you understand how and why your spouse became so critical, it should be easier to remember that this has everything to do with them and less with you.

It is often said that we inflict the worst of ourselves onto the ones that we love the most. It is challenging to field their spouse’s “worst constantly,” but take comfort in that the issue is not about how you take care of the kids, your appearance, or how the dinner came out.

Criticism is a destructive communication pattern broken down to its most basic form. To preserve your self-esteem and confidence, you must maintain a strong sense of self.

6 Ways to Deal with Critical Spouse

Although challenging, a strong focus needs to center around your self-esteem and confidence. Now that you understand how and why your spouse became so critical, it should be easier to remember that this has everything to do with them and less with you.

It is often said that we inflict the worst of ourselves onto the ones that we love the most. It is challenging to be the one constantly fielding their spouse’s “worst,” but take comfort in the fact that the issue is not about how you take care of the kids, your appearance, or how the dinner came out.

Criticism is a destructive communication pattern broken down to its most basic form. To preserve your self-esteem and confidence, you must maintain a strong sense of self.

1. Improve Communication With Your Spouse

John Gottman refers to criticism as the first of the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse,” a metaphor for destructive communication styles in relationships. Gottman states that criticism is the first and least bad of the four horsemen but stipulates that it can escalate into the last three, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling.

Instead of talking things out in an assertive and productive manner, an individual chooses to express their viewpoint by berating their partner with criticism.

As you probably have guessed, criticism never works, as the one being criticized cannot hear the viewpoint, as it is cloaked and veiled under criticism. Instead, individuals react by either returning to their partner or retreating from them.

Gottman describes contempt as the process where individuals ridicule and criticize each other, often leading to stonewalling behaviors. Furthermore, Gottman discussed how criticism can lead right into defensiveness, as individuals immediately become defensive while under attack and retaliate by reversing blame onto their partner.

Improving communication and enduring the process will take a lot of self-restraint and awareness. However, instead of responding to criticism and perpetuating the cycle, take a deep breath and respond assertively.

Inform your partner that the statement is hurtful and take responsibility for your actions if you are at fault. Try to uncover your partner’s message by looking past the criticism and acknowledging their feelings—attempt to have empathy and understanding, which may assist you in overlooking “minor” infractions. Stay calm, avoid screaming matches, and above all else, stay respectful.

Expect your partner to deny their critical behavior, as a hypercritical spouse is often unaware of their tendencies. During the conversation, set solid and consistent boundaries with your spouse of what you will and will not tolerate and make them understand what the consequences will be when boundaries are violated.

For example, a consequence can be that you will immediately walk away and disengage from the conversation if your spouse begins to curse or criticize you.

2. Take Charge of Your Response to Your Husband’s or Wive’s Constant Criticism

You may ignore your husband/ wife if they criticize you in front of family members or in a public area where others may hear and see you. Although confrontation is essential and valuable, it must occur at the appropriate time and place.

If your significant other reprimands you in public, you must discuss what led them to do so. Is it likely that you overreact or that your partner is not as critical as you believe? When your critical husband makes an unintentional comment, you can often misinterpret it as constant criticism.

If your partner publicly criticizes you, it’s best to wait to discuss the issue. You may say, “When you lectured me in the presence of your parents, I felt humiliated and angry. To avoid awkward silences the next time, I’d appreciate it if you could bring it up with me in advance?”

3. Find Out What Changes Your Critical Husband or Wife Could Make

This is not an appropriate technique to handle a critical partner in an abusive marriage with emotional abuse. However, if you and he have just recently married, you may still get acclimated to how the other person lives and works.

When my partner criticizes your actions, you may sometimes ask how they would handle the matter differently. There are no fast cures or tried-and-true strategies for dealing with a critical husband! Learning to be a married couple entails figuring out the best ways to communicate and get along with your spouse alongside healthy boundaries.

You must take precautionary actions if they are unreasonable, show emotional abuse, or demanding since you could be in an abusive marriage. Take care of yourself since you deserve love, which will boost your self-esteem. If you’re in an abusive marriage, seek help to get you out of the misery.

4. Seek Social Support

Self-confidence and the amount of social support are highly connected. Regarding social support, your spouse is usually (or should be) your primary source. If this isn’t the case, having many trustworthy friends and family members may assist in compensating.

The best kinds of relationships are the ones that strengthen you. Even if your partner undermines your self-confidence and self-esteem, having many others appreciate and support you may offer you greater confidence. This serves as a reminder to select enriching connections over harmful ones.

Continue to strengthen your core by doing things that you love and that make you feel good.

Try new things that interest you and continue to engage in activities that you are good at. Seek solace in support of good friends and close family members. Have coffee with an old friend, read a book, go to the gym. Journal your thoughts and feelings, listen to music you love, and dance.

Avoid isolating behaviors and take time for yourself when you need it. Spend time with your spouse by doing festive and light-hearted activities.

5. Set Healthy Boundaries for What You Will Tolerate

Suppose your spouse is being offensive and showing emotional abuse through constant criticism. It is OK to leave until they have cooled down. Then you may revisit the topic. But you must be pretty precise here and set healthy boundaries! Because power is essential to them, granting the critical partner responsibility over particular. However, not all parts of the relationship are acceptable.

Regardless of your husband’s motivations, you must avoid seeing their evaluations as accurate appraisals of your value. In other words, don’t take your spouse’s constant criticism personally, and have self-confidence. If you let their ideas impact how you view yourself, you will get low self-esteem.

 6. Get Couples Counseling and Therapy

Couple at Marriage Counseling

Couples counseling can be beneficial in assisting a team to improve negative communication patterns.

The criticizer may need assistance in understanding how they became critical. Also, with added support on stopping, the criticized may need help forgiving, healing, and moving forward.

Photo of author

Tracy Smith, LPC, NCC, ACS

Tracy Smith, LPC, NCC, ACS is a Licensed Professional Counselor in New Jersey, a Nationally Certified Counselor, an Approved Clinical Supervisor, and a mental health freelance writer. Tracy has fourteen years of clinical and supervisory experience in a variety of mental health settings and levels of care.

9 thoughts on “How to Deal with Critical Spouse”

  1. If they only knew the resentment they cause. I’m saving for my divorce at the moment because after 11 years of trying to be perfect, it appears I’m worse than in the beginning. I’m sure she will have plenty to complain about soon but I won’t be there to listen.

  2. Thank you for writing this article. My wife left me 2 months ago and I’m learning more about myself and my destructive behaviors since she left. I may be unable to save my marriage but I’m on a journey now to be a better person in general. Even if I can’t win her back I want to be the type of person she would never want to leave. The worst part is that I was so self-delusional that I did not know or believe I was this way. It took her leaving and being alone with myself to see it.

  3. I am in counseling now because I have a critical husband.He refuses to take any part in counseling and will not discuss anything with me. I feel stuck. I just don’t care as I did.

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