It is natural for a well-meaning spouse to help you towards self-growth and point out ways you can improve yourself. But what if this tendency is carried to such an extent where it begins to hurt your sense of self-worth and self-confidence. Here are a few ways to deal with a spouse who is all the time and overly critical of you.
It is not about you.
To begin with, realize that your spouse’s critical behavior has little or nothing to do with you. He/she might be busy the whole day finding fault with your cooking, your sense of style, the way you keep your things and the people you meet. But this is not really a reflection of the rightness or wrongness of your own choices or qualities. This is happening merely because your spouse’s perceptions are different from yours. Like for an emotionally mature person, parking the car at a mere five degree slant might not seem a big thing, but for an overly critical person, the action is not merely unacceptable but actually a reflection of your inability to drive or learn a new skill. And since you cannot fight with a person’s perceptions or tell them that they are wrong to feel that way, it is best to ignore such negative attacks. In fact an extreme form of a critical tendency is likely to be an expression of a person’s sense of insecurity or a sense of loss of self-control which makes them to focus on the faults of others so that they can feel better about themselves So even though it may be hard not to get depressed by constant barbs from your spouse – after all they are directed at you – try not to take them personally.
Don’t let the criticism get you down. Facing constant negative feedback from the person you love is difficult to accept. But don’t let your partner’s negative comments ruin your day or spoil your mood. Tell yourself that only you have the power to control your mood and no one else. Don’t give away this power so easily. Moreover remind yourself that you are responsible for your own feelings and your spouse cannot make you feel unhappy or bad about yourself without your consent.
Don’t get defensive.
It may severely try your patience to listen to yet another catalogue of your faults, but try to listen calmly instead of getting defensive. Cutting off your spouse prematurely or reacting with an impatient gesture or tone of voice will only blow up the situation and give your spouse another excuse to criticize your apparently volatile behavior. Rather give your spouse an opportunity to be heard, so that they feel they have had their say and then you can either choose to ignore the complaints or give your side of the matter.
Don’t react with counter-criticisms.
You know that your spouse’s overly critical behavior is an expression of some flaw in his/her personality but your spouse doesn’t. So replying to your partner’s constant negative attacks by pointing out their faults in turn will make little sense to your spouse and only escalate the fight to ugly levels. Your spouse is just not aware of how unfair or distressing their excessive criticism is and launching a direct attack to convince them that they are mistaken will almost always fail to produce any constructive result.
Consider their point of view.
When your spouse launches into yet another litany of your faults, you may be tempted to tell yourself, “Here we go again…” and mentally switch off. But just this time, consider if your spouse’s complaints might have something to them after all. No human being is perfect and everyone has some faults or other. Perhaps some of your sloppy habits are actually irksome to your partner – after all no one enjoys the sensation of a damp bed which may be the result of your leaving the wet towel on the covers. So take a moment to consider if through his/her usual harangue, your spouse is making a valid point. It is only too easy to get upset and decide that the criticism is unfair and miss the part which has a grain of truth after all.
Have a chat.
It is of little use getting defensive and angry when your spouse is in the midst of yet another negative attack on your behavior. Rather schedule a time to have a talk with your spouse. Discuss how you are feeling unhappy and depressed at being ticked off all the time. Let your partner know that being constantly criticized does not want to make you try harder – in fact it only makes you feel more discouraged and wish to give up on making a difference. Also point out that if this continues over time, your feelings of despair and hopelessness may even make it difficult for you to continue in the relationship. End the discussion by reaffirming your love for your spouse and your readiness to improve any aspect of your behavior which may be actually upsetting him/her. If talking face to face with your partner seems too hard, perhaps you could even write him/her a letter. Here too, sandwich concerns of your emotional well-being between affirmations of love and support for your spouse.
Seek professional help. No matter how strong a person is, facing negative energy day in and day out for a length of time may be enough to wear away all traces of one’s self-esteem and happiness. If you feel you are facing such a situation, ask your spouse to accompany you to a marriage counselor or therapist. Sometimes an overly critical behavior may not be about mere nit-picking but about a dysfunctional personality in which case it may not be possible for you and your spouse to deal with the effects by yourselves.
So no matter how distressing a spouse’s overly critical nature may appear to be, there are ways to deal with it. The only requirements are tact, patience and of course the desire, on both sides, to make your marriage a happier one.