How to Criticize Your Spouse in the Way that Actually Works

Snide remarks. Eyerolls. Angry outbursts. Constant correction. Your spouse deserves that, right? After all, they’re messing up over and over again. And it’s up to you to set things right. If it wasn’t for you, the home would fall apart. So of course you need to criticize your spouse.

But the right way to do that is not with snide remarks and eyerolls. A quarrelsome, contentious spouse is miserable to live with. Even the Bible says so, repeatedly. (Proverbs 21:9, 21:19, 25:24, 26:21, 27:15) You don’t want to be that spouse.

If you’re married to someone who is constantly critical, nitpicking, and finding fault, that’s a problem. But that’s not what this article is about. Here I’m talking about your own behavior, about what it’s like to be married to you.

OK, your spouse does lots of things wrong. (News flash: so do you.) Yup, your spouse says things that irritate you, forgets to do something you counted on them to do, doesn’t clean up after themselves, or fails to speak your love language. They’re late getting home (or getting ready) – again, or embarrass you in front of friends.

You have a choice in how you handle those legitimate irritations. You could ignore them, stuff your irritated feelings, and let the resentment build up. But that’s not your style. You’re the type to want things right, and so you call your spouse on things. Over and over again.

How’s that working for you?

If you want your marriage to be more peaceful, here’s how to criticize your spouse – the wrong way, and the right way.

Always Failing  

Ask yourself, can my spouse be himself/herself around me? Can they be at rest in my presence? Would I want to hang out with me?

I’ve talked with some wives who feel totally exhausted just being around their husbands. They have to constantly walk on eggshells trying to avoid the angry outbursts, snide remarks, or negative comments. Nothing they say or do is quite good enough. Their husband points out every little place they don’t measure up. They’re happier and more at peace when he’s not around.

I’ve talked with some husbands who feel they can never win with their wives. Regardless of how hard they try they’re always a failure. The nitpicking drives them crazy. Most men in that situation will simply withdraw; they won’t keep putting effort into something where they can’t succeed. And many will find every excuse possible to avoid being where they can’t win.

Husband, do you wear your wife out?

Wife, can your husband feel like a success at home?

You may feel you’re only trying to help, pointing out areas for improvement.

If you want your home to be a place of constant tension, where your constant micromanaging is required to keep everyone in line, then keep up the effort. You’re succeeding. That’s a way to criticize your spouse that drives you farther apart.

But if that’s not the home you want, if you want a marriage that’s safe and intimate, it’s time for a change.

The Small Stuff

You may have heard the maxim Rule Number 1; don’t sweat the small stuff. Rule Number 2; everything is small stuff.

That’s not completely true; not everything is small stuff. But a lot of it is.

Try being a consultant to yourself. Look at it from the outside, as if you’re a third party looking in. Is the degree to which you become irritated out of proportion to the thing itself? If so, you’re being triggered.

The rise of an emotion in you when you experience a trigger happens quicker than your brain can form a thought. But there IS a space between the trigger and what you do next – the snide remark, the angry outburst, the contemptuous look. Your mission is to identify the feeling that gets triggered, and then lengthen the time before you respond.

And in that pause you can learn that you have a choice about what you do next.

That might be bite your tongue, take some deep breaths, excuse yourself for a moment to cool off, point your mind to something positive, etc.

You might also discover that the emotional response you feel is really about something far removed from the moment. You’re not responding only to your spouse’s upset; you’re responding to the tapes in your head from when your father yelled at you for messing up when you were a child.

The Not-Small Stuff

So what about the things that aren’t small? When bills aren’t getting paid, or your spouse’s drinking is causing real problems, or their pornography use is destroying your relationship, or the intimacy between you has gravely deteriorated.

Nagging, criticizing, and trying to control doesn’t help. Neither does ignoring the problem. But you’re not powerless.

If your spouse’s heart is toxic talking about it won’t help. Being nicer, trying harder, submitting more, or any other similar effort is counterproductive. There are even times you may need to leave. And you’ll need input from God and other godly people to help discern that.

But as long as your spouse is a person of good will, choose your time and place. And then focus on working toward a solution.

If the bills aren’t getting paid, belittling your spouse for forgetting them only drives you farther apart. There are other solutions. You could sit down and have a monthly marriage budget meeting together. You might set up automatic payments to avoid late charges, create a weekly reminder system you both can use, or change who is handling that part of your marriage on a daily basis.

If your spouse’s drinking or pornography use is causing a problem, you can go to Al-Anon, set some necessary boundaries, check out Fight for Love Ministries, and perhaps set up an intervention to get your spouse into recovery.

If the intimacy is nowhere to be found in your marriage, you can deeply consider the Why, and do the hard work to connect your hearts again.

Do The Next Thing

Your quarrelsome contentious criticism only makes things worse. Instead:

  • Learn to let the small stuff go
  • Deal with the triggers in your own head without criticizing your spouse
  • For the big stuff, work toward a solution

Don’t be the “continual dripping on a rainy day” that Proverbs talks about. Be the person your spouse wants to come closer to.

Your Turn: If you tend to be negative and contentious, are you aware of how your marriage is affected when you criticize your spouse this way? What are you going to do about it? Leave a comment below.

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