Responding to Criticism From Your Spouse 

Criticism can be very damaging to any relationship, especially a marriage. If you live with a spouse who tends to criticize you frequently, it is important to take a look at your reactions to the criticism. Learning how to respond to criticism in a helpful way can help decrease the damage created by criticism.

Managing Your Reaction

How you react when your spouse criticizes will make a big difference in how damaging the criticism is to your marriage. If you lash out, call your spouse names, or try to hurt your spouse back, it will only further damage the marriage. It is important to learn to manage your emotional response.

Criticism can be very hurtful. When people feel hurt, they often lash out in anger. If your feelings are hurt, learn how to manage your anger to prevent you from trying to hurt your spouse back in retaliation. Take a deep breath, slowly count to ten, take a time out or do whatever works for you to help you calm down before responding.

The Difference Between Constructive Feedback and Criticism

There is definitely a difference between constructive feedback and criticism. Constructive feedback tends to offer an opinion that is often solicited and is clearly aimed at being helpful. For example, if you ask your spouse, “Does this shirt look okay for the interview?” and your spouse responds with, “I think it is too wrinkled,” that’s helpful.  The intentions are clearly to help you feel confident you look your best.

On the other hand criticism tends to be shame based. It is often meant to embarrass or degrade the other person. A person offering criticism may say something like, “Oh my, that is an ugly shirt.” Criticism is often worded in a way that doesn’t say “let’s see how we can tackle this together” but instead is more like “you are doing something wrong.”

Sometimes the intentions are the same when someone offers criticism or constructive feedback. Your spouse may be trying to convey that she thinks you should try a different shirt for an interview and may be doing so out of her love for you and desire for you to be successful. However, the delivery of this information may come in a form that does not seem loving.

Re-framing Criticism

It can be helpful to re-frame the criticism back to your spouse. So if your spouse says, “that’s an ugly shirt,” respond by saying, “You don’t think this is a good shirt to wear to the interview because you are afraid I won’t get the job?” By re-framing this, you can help your partner find a more loving and appropriate way to express the concern.

It may take some work to try and find the love that underlies some criticism. However, most criticism does stem from a person’s desire to be helpful in some way shape or form. Criticism is often just delivered in a way that is not very helpful.

Communicating Your Feelings

It’s important to communicate your feelings to your spouse. If you are married to someone who is often critical of you, talk to your spouse about this. At a time when you are both calm, discuss your concerns and how you feel when you are criticized. Discuss other ways that your partner can be more helpful to you.

For example, tell your spouse, “It really hurt my feelings when you said I looked terrible before I left for work. If you were concerned about my shirt, I wish you could have told me in a way that didn’t involve making fun of me.” By explaining your feelings, it can help show your partner that you aren’t comfortable with the criticism you receive.

Talk about how criticism can be expressed in a more helpful way. For example, starting a sentence with “I’m concerned about…” can be more helpful. If your spouse says, “I’m concerned about how much time you have been spending playing video games,” it will likely get a much better response than if your spouse says, “You are so lazy. All you do is play games all day.” Learning how to communicate in positive ways can help you get the message across much more effectively.

Avoid Criticizing Your Spouse

Be careful not to criticize your spouse, even when your spouse criticizes you. Instead, try to role model healthy ways to express your concerns by offering constructive feedback. Before you offer feedback to your spouse, take a minute to examine the way you are wording it. Try to make sure that you express your loving concern in a way that won’t make your spouse feel criticized.

Constructive feedback is very important in a marriage. It is a loving to express your concerns at times when you are worried about something. However, the way you deliver it will make a big difference.

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