According to marriage expert John Gottman, criticism is one of the best predictors of divorce. This doesn’t mean that everyone who experiences complaints from their spouse is going to end up in divorce court, but criticism (ongoing attacks on your spouse’s personality or character) does have a detrimental impact on the success of your marriage. Why?
When our spouse frequently criticizes us we feel unloved, unappreciated, and devalued. We perceive that we don’t matter like we should. It’s the opposite of feeling cherished.
So what should you do if you’re married to someone who puts you down or criticizes you on a regular basis? Here are some strategies to navigate this difficult situation:
1. Don’t stoop to their level.
Critical people are often unhappy people. They tend to spend their life looking at all the things that are going wrong instead of focusing on what things for which they can be grateful.
Often people with high standards or expectations can become critical of their spouse. Resist the urge to retaliate towards your spouse and criticize them. Follow Jesus’ example. Peter, writing about Jesus said, “When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:23).
Ask yourself how you can respond (or not respond) to your spouse’s criticism. Perhaps pray for God’s peace to be upon you and for a guard over your mouth. Memorize Psalm 141:3 and make it your prayer when the criticism flies. It says, “Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips!”
You may have to establish a boundary with your spouse by saying something like, “If you continue to berate my character for this then I’m going to end this discussion until you can talk about it without doing that.” If you feel the need to respond to unwarranted criticism, do it firmly and with kindness.
2. Communicate that their criticism is hurtful.
It’s honest and acceptable to talk with your spouse about issues that bother you or disappoint you. However, if a spouse focuses on their partner’s character instead of the issue, that’s making criticism personal – and painful. Suggest to your spouse ways he or she could communicate that would be less hurtful. Maybe your spouse is unaware of how they’re coming across to you and your conversation could be a wake up call to them.
3. Evaluate if there’s a degree of truth.
For example, perhaps your spouse is critical of the way you drive. Analyze if there could be some degree of truth to what your spouse is communicating. Have you gotten a ticket in the last year? Do you tailgate? Have you had several accidents? If you recognize your spouse has a point, take steps to improve and change your habits. Ask your spouse for suggestions on how you could improve. Then when your spouse criticizes you again in that area, let them know you’re working on those issues and you’d appreciate some encouragement along the way.
4. Have a sense of humor.
Sometimes a good laugh will break the tension between you and your spouse. Laugh in a respectful way and be careful not to be sarcastic or disrespectful to your mate.
If your attempts to communicate with your spouse, evaluate and improve bad habits, and establish appropriate boundaries are unsuccessful, we would recommend you meet with a professional Christian counselor. They can empower you with the tools and resources to help you navigate your spouse’s criticism in a way that strengthens you as you build your marriage.