I sometimes hear from wives who feel constantly criticized and berated by their husbands. Many tell me that this behavior is nearly constant and shows no signs of letting up. One wife recently told me, in part: “my husband is constantly criticizing me. He complains about my weight, my appearance, my intelligence, my parenting, my family, how I handle my job, my sexual skills, and a slew of other things. Sometimes, he does this in a very passive aggressive way. He won’t come out and call me stupid, lazy, or inadequate but he sure does imply it. He hardly ever compliments me or has anything nice to say where I’m concerned. I’m so tired of this. It’s really affecting my marriage because I almost can’t stand to be around him anymore and I always feel defensive because I always feel attacked. I never want to have sex with him as the result of this. And then of course, then he’s critical of our sex life. What can I do?”
I will share some of the tips and suggestions that I gave to this wife in the following article.
Don’t Let The Criticism Go Without A Response. Don’t Ignore It, But Acknowledge It In A Thoughtful Way: The wife had taken to ignoring her husband’s remarks or saying something just as cutting right back. The reason was that no matter what she did or did, the criticism never stopped. Because of this, she had just sort of given up and harbored resentment.
But, if you don’t confront this issue, the criticism is only going to continue. And the wife admitted that ignoring her husband often made him more angry and even more critical. He wasn’t getting the response he wanted so he felt the need to ramp up his attempts to get a rise out of her.
I suggested that the next time the husband began his critical comments, the wife might calmly say something thing like: “Listen, we need to talk about something. When you talk to me with this tone, it really hurts me. It makes me feel badly about myself and it makes me feel defensive and badly toward you. This doesn’t do anything to help us or to improve what you are complaining about at the time. Can we talk about why you’re attacking me this way? If there’s something that you’re not happy about, then I’m certainly willing to discuss it with you, but I can’t sit here and allow you to talk to me that way. I can’t let this continue to happen. I’ll always be willing to have a conversation about how we both might be happier in our marriage, but I can’t tolerate the personal attacks. I’m going to cool off for a while, but after we’ve both calmed down, let’s talk about this. I think we will both get a better response if we focus on the positive rather than the negative.”
In my opinion and experience, trying to call him on the criticism in a constructive way is better than ignoring it and allowing it to continue. Nothing gets resolved this way and the resentment and anger build. It’s always better to attempt to change something for the positive than to remain silent while continuing to be unhappy or hurt. Now, if the criticism gives rise to physical harm, then that is an entirely different story.
Try To Determine The REAL Source Of His Criticism. Why Is He Using Negative Comments To Get Your Attention?: Please understand that by my asking you this question, in no way am I implying that any of this is your fault. It most certainly isn’t. But it can be to your benefit to dig a little deeper here. Because often, his nasty comments aren’t directly reflective of what he’s criticizing you about. In other words, sometimes the comments don’t have ANYTHING to do with you at all.
Sometimes, he keeps repeating the same words, comments, and behaviors because he is still trying to get some reaction or change that he has been able to accomplish in any other way. Other times, his words have more to do with his own insecurities and unhappiness than they have to do with you. It’s also possible that he has seen his family relate to one another in a similar way and he’s acting on the examples that he has seen. Finally, many men react to stress by lashing out at the people closest to them. I’m not saying it’s right, but it’s common.
Whatever the reason, if you can see past his words and figure out what he is really trying to accomplish, you can sometimes change or even break the cycle. For example, some men in this situation will tell me that the only way they know to get a rise out of their wife and get her attention is to say something that stops her in her tracks. In his mind, he’s trying to get her to pay attention to him but he doesn’t know how, so he will resort to whatever he knows works. This isn’t an excuse for his behavior but this is sometimes part of his thought process.
That’s why it can really help to determine why he feels the need to resort the negative to get a reaction. That way, you can attempt to change things so that the comments are no longer necessary. This doesn’t mean you have to cater to him when he’s being a jerk, but digging a little deeper will sometimes mean you won’t have to deal with this anymore.
If You Can, Try To Eventually Use This As An Opening To Improved Communication Rather Than As A Catalyst For The Deterioration Of Your Marriage: I was concerned for this wife because it was clear that she was really at the end of her rope. She was ready to check out of the marriage because she was tired of constantly dealing with nasty attacks on her character. I hope that before she gave up, she would at least try to address this very directly with her husband, try to see what was behind his behavior, and then try to rebuild their communication style into something that was much more healthy.
Because responding to his negativity in kind was only going to make things worse and make them feel further alienated from one another which was likely to make the communications worse. By no means do I think that anyone should stay in a hurtful marriage, but I have seen many situations such as this one turn around with a little care, a little digging, and improved communication.