Criticism is a tough thing to take, no matter who you are. But when your husband feels he’s being criticized all the time, it can be especially hard to know how to react.
This can be a challenging situation to navigate; fortunately, there are ways to change the dynamic and improve your communication in your marriage.
According to relationship experts, here are things you should do when your husband takes everything as criticism:
Approval and kind words are extra crucial for this type of husband
If your husband takes everything as a criticism, ask yourself if you are being too critical. Many of us may mean well but are coming across different than we intend to.
Were your parents critical? Ask yourself if your parents or family members were critical growing up. If so, you may be desensitized to criticism. You probably don’t know you are being critical.
You see criticism as normal, while people who grew up in healthy households are not used to constant criticism.
If he grew up in a critical environment, he might be even more sensitive to criticism. He may not possess the inner self-esteem to feel good about himself. So approval and kind words may be extra crucial for this type of husband.
- How many critical things do you say per day? How many nice things do you say to him?
A relationship needs at least five positive interactions for every negative one to thrive. Otherwise, things will go downhill.
Figure out how many times you criticize him per day. Then count the number of positive things you say to him. If it’s less than five positive to one negative statement, fix it. Start saying more positive things to him. He’ll appreciate that.
- Is your criticism about something important?
If you criticize him far more than the 1:5 ratio, do you think he deserves it? Would you like it if he criticized you that much?
- Examine the issues you criticize him about. Write down the reoccurring ones.
- Rank them in importance from #1-4. One being the most important, four being the least.
- Try to only focus on issues ranked one and two. And don’t mention issues ranked three and four.
Don’t keep mentioning the same issues over and over. If you’ve said it once or twice, he already knows. Reducing the number of times you criticize him should help him feel less criticized.
- Can you positively reframe the criticism?
Instead of saying how much you don’t like something he does, can you focus on stating it in the opposite way?
For example, the opposite of saying you don’t like it when he leaves his dirty socks all over the floor is saying how much you love it when he helps out and puts his dirty socks in the laundry hamper. He’ll remember this next time you need help.
Everyone loves appreciation. Healthy men love getting compliments and making their wives happy. If he can get both in one shot, it’s even better.
Try using a softer tone and language
- Examine your demeanor when you criticize. Men are very sensitive to the tone of voice. If you sound angry or yell, he’s already annoyed and tuning you out.
- Do not insult him. Generalizing his behavior or saying he “always does that” or “isn’t considerate” are fighting words. The last thing you want is for him to get defensive.
Instead of using harsh or accusing words, try using gentler words. Speak with a softer tone.
If you grew up around a lot of loud, direct, or critical people, you might have more trouble with this. On the flip side, you can also make the most gains when you fix this issue.
Focus on your feelings, not who is right or what is logical
It’s easy for an issue to become a battle of who is right. You don’t want it to become a battle of wills. This is what often happens when you trigger a man’s ego.
Instead, try explaining how his actions hurt your feelings or make you feel like he doesn’t care.
Revealing that something hurts your feelings shows vulnerability. When someone is vulnerable, it’s harder to hurt their feelings when they’re already down. It’s more natural to show softness back to a vulnerable person. This means you’re more likely to get what you want.
- Are you or he used to doing things your own way?
If you are a picky person who is used to having things done your way, you’ll need to adjust, especially if you are the oldest or only child.
Marriage is about communication, compromise, and working together.
This will be even more challenging if you are both used to getting your way all the time. Having two assertive partners together will be a lesson in compromise.
You aren’t going to get your way all the time. But as long as you have a spouse who shares your basic values and wants to see you happy, you can make it work.
Related: How to Have a Happy Marriage
- What if your criticism is legit?
Sometimes you have legitimate complaints and criticism. And if he doesn’t want to listen or take responsibility, he will say you are too critical.
If you have already tried softening your words or only saying the most important things that bother you, this isn’t good, especially when he doesn’t say sorry or makes no effort to change his behavior.
In this case, you may need to find a third party who can bridge this communication gap. A couple’s counselor or church leader is a good mediator.
- What if he doesn’t want to go or nothing changes?
If he doesn’t want to go and doesn’t do anything else to meet you halfway, ask what he’d like to happen. If he simply tells you to be quiet and stop criticizing, he doesn’t want to make an effort to change.
Figure out if you want to live in the conditions you have today because if one spouse doesn’t make an effort, it won’t ever improve. It can only stay the same or likely get worse.
- Does he genuinely care about your happiness?
If he knows it hurts you and keeps doing it anyway, he may not care about your happiness.
Again, figure out if these conditions are acceptable to you. Ask yourself if you want to continue your life with a husband who has no intention to change.
Don’t be afraid to leave if you’ve tried everything and there’s no improvement. You deserve a husband who puts in as much effort as you do. You deserve to be happy and heard.
Seeing a couple’s counselor together is ideal for working through communication issues. If he doesn’t want to cooperate and you don’t see changes, seeing a therapist or relationship coach yourself is a good alternative.
Certified Psychodynamic LMFT | Licensed Psychotherapist | Confidence and Assertiveness Specialist
Share what you want and explain its positive impact on the relationship
Make sure you are asking in a way that doesn’t include criticism. Women are hardwired to be sensitive to criticism and punishment, and it’s often why we go that route when communicating with men because, for us, it’s effective.
Not the same for men. Men’s natural response is to get defensive; this instinct can be overridden and often is in many men.
The way women ask and if we appreciate after the thing we asked for is done, is directly attached to if our husband gets defensive or not.
Men get defensive when they feel like you are attacking them. If you give your opinion about them and it’s hurtful, they will get defensive. They are not going to be motivated to change.
If you are using a calm tone, appreciative, open, and positive about your request, your husband could also get defensive despite the fact you are being really effective if he is emotionally immature. That’s a more rare case.
Men feel criticized because women often frame something they want as a complaint or explain the consequences if something doesn’t start or stop.
It sounds like nagging, and it’s not productive. Instead, you have to word what you want to share positively and explain the positive impact on the relationship. You can also share it as something you prefer.
How to get your needs met?
Determine a good time to ask for your need to be met
So, not right when your partner gets home from work or is in the middle of doing something.
You may want to tackle something right away and “need” something to be done immediately, but that does not mean your partner is in the headspace for it at the time.
This also goes for the urgency of communication, especially in those with anxious attachment. The feeling of urgency can cause us to escalate our attempts for the need to be met.
Communicate what you need so that they feel motivated to meet it
We often explain the consequence of the need not being met rather than the benefit of the need being met. Who wants to meet a need only to avoid punishment or consequence?
If your partner is willing to meet your need, be grateful to them
Remember, what you appreciate, you get more of. But don’t overdo it because that can feel like patronizing. Incentivize them to meet your need, and say “thank you” when they do.
Jillene Grover Seiver, PhD
Senior Lecturer and Associate Chair, Eastern Washington University
Give ten reinforcements for every punishment
Perhaps your husband takes everything as criticism because everything feels like criticism.
Do you say, “You left your socks on the floor again,“ or did you say, “I need you to put your socks in the hamper so I don’t have to search for them on laundry day.“
Maybe you need to pick your battles and do as B.F. Skinner suggested—give ten reinforcements for every punishment.
Comment on the things you like and appreciate, and do it often; save the “punishment” of commenting on something that you don’t like for those truly important issues that really do need to change.
How to give ten reinforcements? Thank him for what he does that you like and would like to see again:
- “Thanks for filling the gas tank when you were out.”
- “I like it when you kiss me first thing when you get home.”
- “When you text me that you’re going to be late, it makes me feel like you’re thinking about me and value me.”
Even when it is worth commenting on, it’s important to phrase the criticism as a request rather than an accusation.
If your husband came home later than expected and didn’t text or call to warn you, it’s entirely fair to let him know how that affects you.
If it made you worry for his safety, tell him that. If it made you fear that he’s with someone else, say to him that this makes your insecurities come to the surface, and all you need is a quick text to make you feel comfortable.
Sometimes we criticize: “You never call when you’re going to be late” and forget to explain why the behavior needs to change. Maybe he should automatically know how it makes you feel, but it’s possible that he really doesn’t know.
Maybe he thinks that you’re busy and won’t notice that he’s late anyway, or that if he messages you when the baby is napping, the notification could wake the baby or some other kind of benign explanation.
Put yourself in your husband’s position
If you were receiving the message you’re sending, would you feel like it was a criticism? If so, think about rephrasing your comment or maybe not even saying it.
Sometimes our comments are the start of an argument because when it feels like a person is being criticized, it activates their defensiveness—they feel like they have to defend themselves against our attacks.
Try taking the “no criticism” challenge
Every time you feel like commenting on something (no matter how justified you might be), bite your tongue. Let the appreciative and encouraging comments flow, but do not utter criticism for a solid week. See how that affects your husband’s behavior.
If he becomes more relaxed, loving, and engaged, it’s a sign that there has been too much criticism coming his way.
If his behavior doesn’t change, it means that you weren’t being very critical previously, or he is looking for reasons to be defensive. That’s a sign that the communication issues are even deeper than just perceived criticism.
Licensed Clinical Psychologist | Assistant Professor of Psychology, Yeshiva University
Use the “DEAR MAN” skills to express your feeling to your partner
“DEAR MAN” is a DBT interpersonal skill that is effective for all types of interactions, including those with your partner.
DEAR MAN stands for:
- Appear Confident
This is what it may look like:
Describe the facts of the situation
At this point, you want to state only facts (do not state judgments!). Do not express your feelings or ask for anything yet. By first describing the facts, you are setting up the conversation effectively.
Example: “Anytime I give you feedback, you yell at me and then withdraw.“
Express your feelings
It is important that you use “I statements.” This helps you be accountable and prevents your husband from becoming defensive.
Example: “This makes me feel sad, distant, and withdrawn.“
Assert by asking exactly what you need clearly and strongly
This is most effective when done as a question.
Example: “Can you listen to me when I give you feedback about something?“
Reinforce by communicating why your partner should grant your request
This is because relationships are built on reciprocity.
Example: “This will make me feel closer to you.“
Try not to become distracted by other topics and stay focused on your goal. If your husband becomes defensive, keep the conversation on course.
Example: If your husband starts pointing out your flaws and giving you backlash, say, “I understand there are other issues we may need to discuss, but right now, I want to talk about your defensiveness.“
Regardless of how you feel, appear confident in your posture, voice, language, and facial expressions.
Example: Appearing confident will help your partner understand the gravity of the situation. State things clearly, be calm, do not become reactive, and make eye contact.
You are asking for something, so you must be willing to negotiate. If your partner isn’t on board with your ask, be willing to “give to get.” Accommodate your husband as much as possible.
Example: Discuss with your husband a way to deliver feedback that doesn’t feel like criticism to him and makes him less likely to become defensive. For example, you may agree to use “DEAR MAN” anytime you deliver feedback to him.
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist
It can be challenging when you want to give feedback to your partner or spouse, but they tend to take it personally as if you are attacking their:
- and existence.
It can make you feel guilty for having the feelings in the first place, judging yourself for making a big deal. It can also lead to resentment toward your partner because your feedback is valid, and you want to be heard.
In the end, it often feels as if you have to walk on eggshells around them which is exhausting. What can you do?
Take care of yourself first
It can feel intense when sharing information that your partner will feel hurt by, which often can cause guilt, shame, or anger within yourself.
It is essential to:
- Let yourself feel your feelings
- Validate the discomfort of the situation
- Remind yourself that you’re sharing this information for a reason
Often, it can feel that it is better to keep things to yourself, not to hurt your partner; you may be extremely caring, and it’s costing you your own wellbeing.
However, this is probably a pattern at this point which means something needs to happen to stop it. Changing the cycle can often be met with resistance because it is uncomfortable.
Giving yourself permission to sit with that discomfort and soothe yourself will make it easier for you to share your experience and feelings without falling into the same pattern of avoidance or dismissal.
Accept that they will feel hurt or upset
There is this idea that if your partner feels hurt or offended, your feedback is malicious.
While there is the possibility that you are engaging in micro or macroaggressions, you will have to assess where your areas of privilege are and challenge your own internalized “-isms,” which is not always the case.
Sometimes people have a hard time hearing information because it touches on insecurities or they are not used to feedback.
Related: Why Are People Insecure?
As a result, they have trouble coping with their emotions, interpreting the information as an attack on their character, resulting in shutting down or getting defensive.
It can feel as if you are hurting them when they retreat within themselves or strike back.
Here’s the thing: you are not responsible for how others interpret your words or for how they cope with their emotions. It is not your job to manage your partner’s feelings.
It is okay for them to get upset at your words, assuming you are not actually threatening, insulting, or abusing them in any way or that you are not engaging in microaggressions.
Talk to them about your concerns
Once you’re able to take care of your own emotional needs and have accepted that it is okay for them to get upset, share your experience with them. Share your concerns about how it doesn’t feel like you can talk to them about things.
You want to focus on your experience rather than talking about their behaviors; this will increase the probability of them listening instead of being defensive, though that is not guaranteed.
If they are not ready to hear it, give them the time and space to process what you have said so far and return to it at another time. It may take many attempts before any changes can be made.
If you, as a couple, struggle with tolerating the discomfort of these types of conversations, it may be beneficial to reach out to a couple’s therapist to help navigate and referee the discussion.
Marriage and Relationship Coach for Women
Open your heart and empathize with where they’re at
Having worked with hundreds of women over the last ten years, I hear regular accounts of how their husbands seem to take everything they say as criticism.
- asking to put the rubbish out,
- querying about whether the kids are going to be picked up,
- or even if they want to know why they made a certain decision.
No matter what comments are made, it seems to generate the same negative response.
It can be challenging to navigate because it makes wives constantly feel like they are walking on eggshells and unable to communicate anything in fear of a negative response.
With that in mind, to manage the situation in the best way possible, some key points need to be discussed.
If you understand why, then you can respond in a much better and more empathetic way.
Most people just lash out and react because it’s a basic human reaction when we don’t feel understood or someone attacks us with what we believe to be true. However, that never leads to genuine productive conversations.
Men react to criticism because their whole sense of mission is to claim victory. Since the beginning of time, men would go out and “hunt,” and often, there would be a celebration when they returned home.
It’s an innate part of the “masculine” energy to feel special, significant, and respected. The issue is that when men think their wife criticizes everything, they feel like a failure at the deepest level.
However, he won’t want to admit it, so what does he do? He directs the emotional response at her—it hit a nerve. It’s opened up a wound.
Is this the right response from him? Absolutely not. But, if you know someone is in pain, then it helps to open your heart and empathize with where they’re at. From there, understand what steps to take to respond to this honestly and how to handle it:
Understand the hidden wound
Behind every emotional reaction from your husband, there’s a wound that’s opened up that he’s reacting to.
Imagine you have a cut on your foot, and you’re trying to give it some time to heal, but it keeps on opening up because you have to walk. Same with the internal emotional wounds inside of all of us.
Specifically for him, he is most likely holding onto some wounds of inadequacy and insignificance—hence every time a comment is made that questions anything, it is immediately perceived as criticism or a lack of trust/belief in him.
The good thing is that once you understand the hidden wound, you can have compassion for where he is at and what he is going through.
We are all wounded—this is his wound. Empathize with that, and your whole energy and feelings towards him will change.
Have you ever had those times where you hated someone because they acted in a certain way but then when you heard about their story and their trauma, it shifted your perception of them? This is what we are doing here.
Pick the moment and shift your communication
As you shift how you feel towards him, then we need to apply some changes in which we communicate.
This comprises our body language, tonality, and the words we use.
- Relax your facial muscles,
- relax your body language,
- and change your tonality to a really warm and loving tone.
Then say something like, “Honey, I was wondering if you could do me a favor—would you mind taking the trash out for me while I sort X out?”
Or, if you’re unsure of a decision he is making, you might say, “Honey, that’s so cool that you know so much about X. I’d love to learn a little more about that if you wouldn’t mind sharing.”
Make sure you do this when he is in a balanced emotional state because if he is already frustrated or annoyed, it may trigger him.
I have seen the softer, kinder, and more precise forms of communication have a compelling impact on the success of a marriage—it has been one of the pillars of my success in my marriage with my amazing wife.
One point to note is this is not about walking on eggshells and being super careful around him. It’s about recognizing that there are some fundamental differences between how the masculine and the feminine energies communicate.
By understanding those, you can have a hugely positive impact on the quality of your marriage. Remember, you are the centerpiece of your life, and if you don’t heal, things won’t progress.
In all my work, I have yet to see a marriage shift without my clients shifting first. This means that we need to understand what the behaviors we are on the receiving end of are doing to us.
When he gets annoyed, does it make you feel rejected? Does it make you feel inadequate? Are you struggling to speak your truth because you were never allowed to have a voice as a child, etc.?
While your husband is wounded, there is a chance that you may have to deal with your own challenges, and I promise that when you heal those from within, it will have a dramatic shift in your ability to manage your own emotional state and hence react to your husband in the greatest way possible.
And because like attracts like—when you are in a beautiful emotional state, your husband is likely to pick up on that and feed off that positive energy.
David Helfand, PsyD
Licensed Psychologist | Owner, LifeWise, PLLC
Communicate more tactfully to avoid judgmental statements
People usually hear feedback as criticism for two reasons:
- They are either sensitive or triggered by what was said
- What was said was judgmental
Often, the judgmental comments are unintentional but hurtful.
For example, if someone asks, “What do you think of this shirt?“ And your response is, “I can’t believe you still have that old shirt.”
That can easily be interpreted in multiple ways. Is the speaker trying to say they should throw it out, or perhaps communicating that they appreciate the thriftiness of their partner?
In either case, the pathway in the brain is very similar. When we are emotionally triggered, our limbic system becomes highly active. This system includes our fight or flight reaction, and it tends to override processes in the outer layers of our brain known as the cortex.
The cortex holds more rational and higher-level thoughts. When the limbic system is in control, it can basically cause us to have an emotional breakdown or even a tantrum (yes, even adults).
There are a few ways to calm your limbic system: communicating more tactfully to avoid judgmental statements is the best preventative measure, although it’s, of course, not possible to prevent all triggering statements.
Hence, it is also crucial for someone to practice self-regulation techniques so that when they become triggered, they can calm themselves back down.
Another valuable skill is learning how to show empathy. Empathy and emotional connection can drastically lower our limbic system activation when received by someone we trust.
So to avoid your husband feeling like you are criticizing him, first consider what you are saying to make it less judgmental.
Help him develop self-regulation skills by learning to:
- relax his nervous system,
- increase emotional resiliency,
- and practice empathizing with each other
so the recovery time once triggered can be minimal.
Try to imagine the husband’s position and listen closely to hear unmet needs
Your question is one I hear daily. Partners communicate safely by expressing themselves with “reactive” emotions rather than the real, more vulnerable ones.
For example, the husband who feels criticized may actually be masking his feelings of:
- or any number of things.
He interprets what his wife is saying as an attack on his character. Because this is a regular occurrence, it shows that his underlying feelings and needs are not being addressed.
The wife needs to ask herself: “What five reasons, aside from criticism, could my husband be feeling?”
When someone feels criticized, they feel attacked. Try to imagine from the husband’s position—what might be going through his mind?
When the wife completes the list, she should sit down with the husband and say:
“Honey, I’m sorry you feel like I’m criticizing you; That is not my intent. I’m trying to understand why you might feel like I’m criticizing you. I’m wondering if you ever feel like I don’t think you are a good provider, are (insert possible character insults).”
If the husband agrees to anything she says, she simply has to say, “I’d like to know more about that so I can change how I’m communicating with you, so you don’t feel criticized.“
Coach | Speaker | Author, “How to Get Your Man to Wear the Pants“
Use the “sandwich technique” to give constructive feedback
Avoid negative criticism. It can make him defend and justify what he wants to do and less open to feedback.
Give your husband feedback in a way that makes him feel that:
- you are trying to help, and you care about him, not criticize him
- you inspire him and don’t make him want to withdraw
He will be more willing to listen to your comments when your goal is to help him.
One way of giving constructive feedback is the sandwich technique: praise on the top and bottom and suggestions for improvement in the middle.
- Bottom layer of praise: Start by praising the good things he’s done so he feels that you recognize and value them.
- Constructive feedback filling: In the middle, give constructive suggestions.
- Top layer of praise: Follow that with a top layer of positive comments.
Here is an example of applying this technique:
Barry wanted to put a large part of their retirement savings in an investment that Rebecca felt was too risky. The investment promised high returns, but Rebecca believed that if it sounded too good to be true, it is.
- Bottom layer of praise: “Barry, you’ve done a great job investing our retirement savings. Thank you for what you’ve done to help us prepare for retirement.”
- Constructive feedback filling: “Have you thought of how this new investment may affect our relationship?”
Barry was puzzled. “What do you mean?”
“I know it may earn a lot, but we could also lose a lot—and that would create financial stress for us. I feel our relationship is too valuable to risk it by getting into financial stress.
I’ve seen several couples get into financial stress that destroyed their relationship. It’s not worth the risk. I think a better way would be to put some money into this investment and the rest in less risky investments.”
- Top layer of praise: “I think this would fit into the smart way you have been investing our money.”
Barry listened. “Rebecca, I think you’re right. It’s not worth risking our relationship.”
If you disagree with something he wants to do, what are your concerns? Using the sandwich technique to give constructive feedback, write down what you will say under the three headings.
- Bottom layer of praise: What are some of the good things he’s done that you can praise?
- Constructive feedback filling: What will you say to give him constructive feedback in a way that makes him feel you want to help him—not criticize him?
- Top layer of praise: What are additional positive comments you can say?
How did he respond to your feedback? Did he act like he felt you wanted to help him? If you need to fine-tune what you said, write down your revised messages under the headings.
Say positive and constructive words to build respect for each other
Men have a strong need to feel deep respect from a marriage partner. When a wife determines what she thinks is best for her husband and delivers it with a tone that is:
- or critical,
he is likely to become defensive or withdraw. If there is any tone of contempt, his reaction will be even stronger.
If the wife follows a positive statement with “but” and then says a complaint or criticism, she wipes out any positive effect from the initial statement.
The negative comment also seems to cause more hurt when it follows a positive message.
Saying positive and constructive words instead increases respect for him and for each other and builds self-respect, one of the keys to happiness. These words lovingly soften his heart and encourage him to do his best with his actions.
Use affirming character-based words
When couples use Character Quality Language™ as a specific skill to affirm each other, it builds love, appreciation, and happiness between them.
This outcome is especially likely when the words delivered are sincere and include specifics about the positive actions observed.
Here are simple examples:
- “Thank you for your flexibility in changing your appointment when I needed you to take me to work.”
- “I admire your perseverance! You had to ask your manager for a pay increase several times before they agreed.”
Look consciously for each other’s positive actions and speak about them
It takes practice to look consciously for each other’s positive actions and speak specifically about them, but it’s worth the effort and very affirming for both the husband and the wife.
When a husband tries hard, and his wife notices it and affirms it, she encourages him to continue behaving positively. Using character words recognizes the gems of his heart and soul.
Carrie Krawiec, LMFT
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Birmingham Maple Clinic
Evaluate your behaviors and follow the “5:1 ratio”
Are you perhaps giving more criticism than praise, thanks, or positive remarks?
The ratio of positive to negative should be 5:1 in a healthy relationship. That is, for every five pleasant interactions, only one should be critical.
It’s like a bank account. The positives are deposits, and the negatives are withdrawals; out of balance, you could be below the red line. If things are more negative more often, the ratio must be adjusted until you are in a good space.
Also, evaluate if you are making more criticisms than complaints.
- Complaints speak to a person’s behavior, such as “I hate it when you leave the garage door open.”
- Whereas criticism is an attack on a person’s character, such as “You are so lazy you never pay attention.”
Complaints (within the 5:1 ratio) are fair game in relationships where criticisms are part of the “death knell” John Gottman calls “The 4 Horseman of the Apocalypse.”
Lastly, soften your start-up or use a Mary Poppins’ spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down approach:
- Some gentle affection,
- kind tone,
- and body language
may serve to soften the blow of some constructive language.
Educate your spouse
If you are fighting fair in terms of using complaints for criticism, then perhaps it’s time to educate your spouse.
Often it tends to be women who bring up issues such as reminders of:
- upcoming birthdays or events
- that leaky faucet in the kitchen needs to be tightened
- other FYI for the family
Women often get a bad rap as “nagging” when they are just carrying the “mental load” of the family.
Merely reciting your family’s “honey-do list” should not be seen as a criticism but perhaps just the “ticker” of upcoming news items and things to be aware of.
Men should also work to respond to the issue at hand and not with defensiveness, such as cross complaining, “But you never empty the dishwasher!“
Laura Goldstein, LCMFT
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist | Founder, Montgomery County Counseling Center, LLC
Use gentle start-up
It’s possible you may inadvertently be presenting your concerns critically, without meaning to.
Criticism happens when you communicate an unmet need as a complaint about your partner’s character or behavior. And often, the stronger the need, the stronger the criticism.
You are completely entitled to having needs. However, your need will likely continue to go unmet if phrased as being about the other person. And not only does your need go unmet, but it also elicits defensiveness and can be very detrimental to the relationship.
Even if you believe you are presenting your concerns non-critically, you can still benefit from being extra mindful about how to frame your needs.
A tool called “gentle start-up” is an effective way to do this. This is a tool from Gottman Couples Therapy to reduce criticism (or perceived criticism) and therefore reduce reactivity.
The formula works like this:
- “When ______ (insert situation from neutral stance)”
- “I feel _____ (inset emotion word only).”
- “I’d prefer/I need _____________ (detailed corrective behavior).”
For example, saying, “Hey hun, you left the dishes out,” even in the most gentle, loving tone, is still technically criticism.
Try this instead: “When I come home and see a messy kitchen, I feel overwhelmed and unable to relax after work. I prefer to come home to a clean kitchen so we can relax together.“
Try this approach, and your partner will likely start perceiving less criticism.
Be curious about what that is like for him
Do you find that you can never have a conversation with your husband that doesn’t end in conflict? Curiosity about what is going on for him is an effective way to end that conflict.
When your husband says, “You are always criticizing me!” be curious about what that is like for him.
- First, imagine what it must feel like to be criticized all the time, even if you think it isn’t true. It’s his truth.
- Then ask questions about it. Ask him:
- “Do you feel like this all the time?”
- “Tell me more about how you feel criticized.”
- “Are there times this feeling is worse than others?”
The goal is not to fix a feeling or try to prove that it is wrong or unfair but rather to talk about it. Validation, understanding, and attention will end conflictual communication.
Focus on positive things the husband says and does
Since criticism is fear-based, meaning it comes out of a fear-based mindset. The person who hears a remark as critical or makes critical remarks daily does not see themself as worthy or deserving of anything better.
This person was probably raised by very critical parents and did not see themselves as measuring up to their caregiver’s standards.
Many middle children feel this way because they “think” their parents, teachers, and other adults compare them to their older siblings. Whether the adults do or not is irrelevant as it is the “perception” to the child that matters.
This also applies to a husband who “hears” nothing except criticism from his wife. He is projecting his “critical parent” onto his partner, his wife. Until he becomes aware of what he went through as a child and learns to love himself, he will continue this pattern.
My advice for the wife would be to intentionally, throughout the week, not just on one day, focus on positive things the husband says and does.
State to the husband:
- “I really appreciate you _________.”
- “You know it makes me feel so good when you _________.”
- “Let’s spend some time today doing______.”
Make this something fun that both of you enjoy.
The next time you voice a comment, and your husband tells you, “you are always being so critical of everything I do.”
As the wife should say, “gee, I thought I was being helpful. I want to understand how you are hearing me so I can do better. Will you help me, please?”
Even if he doesn’t answer, say, “could you rephrase the words I just said in a way you would say them?” He will probably answer, “well, I wouldn’t say them to anyone.”
Then you, as the wife, can say, “okay, when you want me to help or assist you to do better, how about you ask me how I perceive things.”
Then you, as the wife, let go and allow.
Given enough time, he will ask for your help because the truth is he likes it. Most critical people get their attention from being critical because negative attention is better than no attention. It is all learned behavior, and the only person you can change is you.
Use “nonviolent communication”
A highly effective tactic for these wives is the process of Nonviolent Communication. It’s a stepwise process, so I’ll take you through the steps and how it works.
State something objectively true: “I noticed that you shouted OR left the house or went to your study, etc.“
It’s essential to be very careful to say something that your husband will agree with. Therefore anything accusatory such as accusing him of any feeling such as anger, or lack of impulse control, is not objective (but is opinion) and must be avoided.
Now you can state your feelings, whether they are rational or not. But they are your subjective feelings, so they are true.
Example: “When that happened, I personally felt…”
- Say what you need: Now you can simply say what you need when you feel like that. e.g., “I need to know you still love me when something like this happens.“
- Make a simple request: “After we go through this sort of thing, hold my hand, say you still love me or smile at me. Each would be fine.“
This is Nonviolent Communication, and it works 90% of the time, even if only one party uses it in a relationship.
Husbands will not feel criticized if, in this way, you own up to your feelings when something happens.
Certified High Performance and Mental Fitness Coach | Collective Leader, FemCity
It can be frustrating when your husband takes everything you say as criticism. You may feel like you can’t do anything right and that he’s always on the defense. However, there are some things you can do to help improve the situation.
Cool off before engaging
Realize that if you are in your feelings, it is not the right time to have a discussion. You’re better off giving yourself a chance to cool off before engaging.
If you’re feeling angry, chances are your body language, and your tone of voice will reflect that.
Avoid using “you” statements when communicating with him
Using “you” will put him on the defensive. So, Instead of saying, “you’re always working late,” try, “I feel lonely when I don’t get to see you.”
This will help him see your perspective and the impact his late work has on you. It will lessen any feelings of being attacked and show that you’re open to communication.
Put yourself in his shoes and listen to what you are trying to tell him
Be honest, how are you communicating? How would you feel receiving the message? Remember, we all want to feel seen, heard, and appreciated, so try to convey those elements in your discussion.
And if you need another point of view, enlist the help of a friend or family member, rehearse the conversation with them and ask them for feedback on how they feel about your delivery.
Make a point to praise him when he does something that you appreciate
Let him know that you noticed it.
Let’s go back to the working late example. Next time he comes home on time, let him know how much you appreciate being able to spend some quality time together.
With a little effort, you can help improve the way he perceives your comments and your relationship overall.
Affirm the relationship
When we’re talking to our partners, we’re usually having at least two conversations at once:
- A conversation about the actual topic
- And a conversation (typically unarticulated) about the state of our relationship
It helps to surface that second conversation by affirming the relationship: “hey, I respect you and love you. I disagree with you about this, and I love and respect you.”
Lean into the strengths of your relationship
It’s so frustrating when our partners take everything we say as criticism, and, in our frustration, we can add fuel to the partners’ fire.
Behaving in a way that communicates: “well, I might not have been mad at you about the Supreme Court, but I’m mad at you for treating me like I’m being aggressive.”
In these moments, when tension is rising for both of us, remember what works in our partnerships.
Maybe it’s humor or physical touch or taking a walk. Take a breath and ask yourself, “how are we relating to each other when we’re at our best?“ See if you can bring some of that energy to the conversation.
Remember the long game
As tense and high-stakes as some of our conversations with partners feel (and are), they aren’t our only chance to discuss an issue.
At the moment, we tend to want to solve everything. We want to:
- make our point,
- refute our partner’s protests,
- and walk away satisfied.
That’s not always available. Sometimes the best strategy is to move on and return to a tense discussion later.
When you have an exit in your back pocket, “well, the beautiful thing here is that we love each other, so we’ll get a chance to dive into this again. For now, what are you thinking for dinner?”
It takes a tremendous amount of pressure off the conversation.
Use “I” statements
When discussing your feelings start with “I” statements. Describe how behaviors make you feel instead of telling your partner what they are doing wrong.
Using “you” statements:
- “You never pay attention to me”
- “You don’t listen to me”
puts people in a more defensive state from the start.
Describing your needs and emotions can make you feel more vulnerable, but doing so can give your partner a better understanding of why changes are important and necessary.
Define your needs
What are you asking from your partner? Why do you need this change?
Get clear on your “why” and work to understand your unique interpersonal and relationship needs. Instead of focusing on how to change someone else’s reaction, look at ways you can have a different conversation.
Set the tone for the conversation
If a topic or area is more sensitive, set aside time to talk about that issue instead of allowing it to come up when you are both stressed.
Suppose you are running down a laundry list of complaints and piling on things other than the original topic. In that case, it is natural for both parties to feel overwhelmed and emotionally drained.
Be specific about how you both want your relationship talks to go and discuss ideas to make that space more connected. Setting aside a time you both can plan for mentally can be helpful.
Rabbi Shlomo Slatkin, MS, LCPC
Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor | Co-founder, The Marriage Restoration Project
Focus on asking for what you want and articulating your feelings
When a relationship is in a negative place, every comment that could be seen as critical will be amplified and taken negatively. There are two ways to approach this problem.
First, begin to examine what you are saying to your husband.
- Are you blaming or shaming him?
- Are you asking him “why?”
This can feel like an interrogation.
Instead, focus on asking for what you want and articulating your feelings. Tell him what you need as opposed to what he did or didn’t do. This will help make sure your comments are not critical.
The second way to tackle this problem is to focus on having much more positivity in the relationship.
Go out of your way to be appreciative. For every one negative comment you have, replace it with five positive comments.
When the relationship feels good, and when your husband feels appreciated and not taken for granted, he will have an easier time with the occasional negative comments and be less likely to interpret everything as a criticism.
Relationship Coach | Creator, The Millionaire Marriage Club
Start by changing the language you use when giving feedback
I found that there is such a huge difference in the listener’s response depending on how feedback is delivered.
The most common way of giving feedback is to use “accusatory you” statements such as, “You hurt my feelings,” or, “You never remember to take out the trash.“
Switching from the “accusatory you” wording to “I feel” language makes the feedback less attacking and blaming. For example:
- “When you did ___, I felt hurt.”
- “When the trash isn’t taken out, I feel irritated.”
With “I feel…” statements, you are telling the truth about yourself rather than harshly delivering feedback about the other person. So, I would start by changing your language when giving feedback.
Next, I might say something like, “I’ve noticed how discouraged you get when I give you feedback. Do you remember times in your past when receiving feedback felt like being harshly criticized?”
Tying current behavior patterns to unresolved wounds from the past may help you be more sensitive to the pain your partner is feeling, not just from your feedback but from deep wounds in his past.
Relationship Expert | Lifestyle Coach, Healing Is Sexy
Be honest and see how your behavior affects the other person
First, start with self: How are you talking to your husband?
Are your tone and the words you are using something that a friend or average person would consider offensive or condescending?
Also, when are you choosing to bring up certain topics with your husband? Is it when he’s preoccupied with something else or when tension is already high because one or both of you have had a stressful day?
We always have to start with what we can change, and that is by being honest with ourselves and how our behavior may be contributing to how the other person is responding.
Talk about challenging topics and set some ground rules of engagement
Before either one of you feels the need to tell the other person what they are or aren’t doing right, talk about how you both would like to communicate when times are tense.
You may learn that your husband is dealing with something you didn’t even know about, and you’ll be able to learn more productive ways to have a healthy exchange that gets both of you the results you want in your relationship.
I also suggest having bi-weekly family meetings to talk regularly about the good and bad things in your relationship so that nothing builds up over time.
Some examples are:
- Agreeing not to use a disrespectful or condescending tone
- Asking questions of clarity and not making faulty assumptions
- Offering words of appreciation before asking for a change in behavior (versus demanding it)
No one likes being told what to do, even when they know it’s something they should be doing. Inviting them to choose to be a part of the relationship in meaningful ways is better.
Remind each other that you’re on the same team
When either spouse feels they are being attacked by the other, it’s a sign that they don’t feel like you’re playing on the same team. They don’t see your often unsolicited help as helpful. Not at all.
When you talk about how to engage in more productive conversations, also remind each other that you are on the same team, and either person doing what can help make the relationship the best it can be for the two of you is welcomed insight.
Sofia Rivera Escalante
Relationship Expert and CEO, InspirebySofia
Listen to what you’re saying
Before you can address how your husband hears your words, take a step back and listen to what you’re actually saying.
If you find yourself constantly critiquing your husband’s behavior and pointing out his weaknesses, it’s no wonder he feels defensive.
Make an effort to build him up instead of tearing him down. When you make an effort to encourage your husband, he’ll be more likely to hear your words in a positive light.
Avoid using “you” statements
Try to avoid using “you” statements, as all he’ll hear is an accusation.
For example, instead of saying, “You never help me around the house,” try saying, “I would appreciate it if you could help me with the dishes tonight.”
When you make “you” statements, your husband is more likely to feel under attack and will become defensive.
Don’t assume what he’s thinking or feeling
It’s also essential to avoid making assumptions about what your husband is thinking or feeling.
If you’re constantly communicating that he’s not interested or doesn’t care about your feelings, he’ll start to feel like he can’t win.
Instead, ask him directly how he’s feeling genuinely. This will give him a chance to express himself without feeling defensive.
Audit your expectations
If you’re expecting your husband to be perfect, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. Instead, focus on the most important things and let go of the rest.
If you can learn to accept your husband for who he is, he’ll be more likely to feel accepted by you. Encourage him to reach his potential, but don’t try to change who he is.
Seek professional help if needed
If you find that your husband is still taking everything you say as criticism, it might be helpful to speak with a counselor or therapist.
This professional can help you and your husband learn how to communicate more effectively. In the meantime, try to be patient and understanding as you work on improving your communication.
Executive and Love Coach | Speaker
Use “compliment sandwiches” to avoid criticism in a relationship
When you find that your husband is taking what you say as criticism, it’s essential to be aware of how you’re talking to him.
Give him “compliment sandwiches” to encourage him to do the things he’s not usually willing to do and celebrate when he does something correctly versus what you think he’s not doing.
For example, when you find out that he’s not doing his best with household duties, ask him to make more of an effort like this:
“Honey, I really appreciate you cleaning out the garage. Do you think it’s possible if you could sweep the floor in the kitchen again? It would mean a lot to me if you took the time to do this.”
You just gave him a compliment sandwich where you were able to slip in what you weren’t happy with. Phrasing a question like that will let him know how much you think his time is valuable to you.
If he takes it the wrong way, then you can’t change how he reacts. You can only alter how you communicate—celebrating his efforts versus criticizing goes a long way in a romantic relationship.
Let your husband have the space he needs
You don’t have to call for immediate action since it will lead the both of you to fight even for simple things. Let him manage his emotions rather than manipulate them.
Sometimes, boundaries and silent treatment help ease the tension between the couples, so you and your husband need that.
The last and very necessary are involvement and respect. Don’t sort the things and imply them only to your husband—work, communicate, and share in terms of chores and contributions.
Problems must be solved between the both of you, and don’t let others, even your relatives meddle about it. You have to put privacy if your husband feels that way for him to see the bright side for every moment he’s with you.
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