Q: I’m fed up of being constantly criticised by my husband.
Sometimes, he’ll criticise me directly, like: “You didn’t handle yourself very well with your mother, did you?” Sometimes he’s passive; he says “We never do anything fun anymore” which I take to mean “You’re not fun to be with” or “You never make the effort to arrange fun dates”.
Other times it’s just how he looks at me or his body language that feels critical – for example, when he sits opposite me at dinner with a disapproving look because he thinks I eat too fast.
We have a strong marriage which I’m committed to and I know he loves me very much but I’m worried that this aspect of him will wear me down.
I’m afraid that my self-esteem will be eroded by this constant criticism and I’ll lose confidence in myself.
Do you have any advice on how to stay strong and positive and keep my focus on what’s going well in our marriage and not let his criticism get me down?
A: Being on the receiving end of criticism certainly doesn’t feel fun – but in life it’s pretty hard to avoid, so it’s wise to focus on how to handle it, both in your marriage and elsewhere.
I’d start by challenging a couple of assumptions. Firstly, is his criticism really “constant”? It’s a convenient phrase but let’s be accurate in how frequently these criticisms occur. Criticism isn’t pleasant so we tend to inflate its impact – but if it’s happening once or twice per day, it’s more honest to say that the majority of the time your husband isn’t criticising you.
Pay attention to all the time you’re together when there’s no criticism; I’m guessing there’s a lot, otherwise it wouldn’t feel like a strong marriage.
The second assumption to challenge is that he’s being critical. Yes, he’s making statements that you don’t like to hear, but here are questions you can ask yourself when you hear him:
Is he being accurate?
Did I think this first?
Do I agree with him?
For example: “We don’t do anything fun anymore” – have you ever thought this?
If so, rather than feeling criticised and shrinking in confidence, you can focus on the fact that he’s sharing with you how he feels and empathise with him. “You know what, I’ve thought the exact same thing. What do you suggest?”
DID you handle yourself well with your mother, or did you feel disappointed with how you showed up? We don’t like people pointing out things we’re struggling with or that we’re disappointed about, but just as you wouldn’t remove a mirror from your house when it shows you a blemish, you don’t need to reject your husband and make him the enemy because he reflects the truth.
Try this: “You’re right, I didn’t show up as the best version of myself with my mother. I got irritable and shut down. I’ve got some ideas for how to be more patient next time – do you have any suggestions to add?”
Have YOU ever felt that you eat too fast? When you see his disapproval at the dining table, you can use that as a reminder to breathe, slow down and eat more mindfully. In this way, his disapproval can become a gift, not a punishment.