Does your spouse make you feel bad about yourself from time to time?
Feeling hurt by something your spouse has said or done is heartbreaking. You’ve tried your best to keep them happy, but they still seem to find something critical to say. Your self-esteem might have taken a blow, or you might be feeling hopeless about your situation.
It’s possible for the most well-meaning spouses to hurt one another’s feelings on occasion. That’s bound to happen over the course of a long life together. But what happens when your spouse’s criticism makes you feel badly about yourself?
Humans Need Affirmation
When your spouse’s behaviors or actions cause you to question your own self-image, that’s incredibly hurtful. People need affirmation from each other, and especially from our spouse. That’s the one person who is supposed to love us most in the world.
It feels vulnerable to admit that we need affirmation. The need to hear encouraging words doesn’t mean you’re insecure or wanting, though. It just means that you thrive when you’re validated.
Does Perfectionism Play a Role?
If you’re married to a perfectionist, you might find yourself under scrutiny. In our experience, some perfectionists might think they’re making “helpful” suggestions (which aren’t helpful at all). Your spouse simply may not be aware of the hurt they’re causing you.
We like to think of some perfectionists as maximizers. They like to take what they see in front of them and improve on it. If your spouse isn’t a deliberately cruel person, they might instead be picking out perceived imperfections they think you can improve on. Because if you can “fix” your imperfections, then you’ll be perfect–right?
(That’s not how it works, of course. But this is one possibility if you’re married to a perfectionist.)
Reflect Back What You Perceive
You might help your spouse understand why their words and actions are hurtful by reflecting back what you perceive from your interactions. This takes courage, but when you reflect what you’re hearing, you give them a chance to clarify their meaning.
Whatever their answer, you can let them know you’ve been hurt. Try saying something like, “Hey, I need to tell you that what you said was really hurtful.” Then, offer constructive feedback.
From this interaction, you’ll be able to determine more about where your spouse is coming from. In the best case, they’re not hurting you on purpose, which means they can course-correct. If you’re guarded, though, they may not be able to see how deeply the hurt goes. That’s why it’s important to be honest about how you feel.
People don’t always understand how their words affect others. It’s important to not only let your spouse know how their words affect you, but to also model authentic affirmation. Say things to them that inspire warmth and affection between the two of you. Remind them how you feel about them.
What Message Are They Sending?
As you’re navigating this situation, it’s important to discern what’s behind the hurtful things your spouse is saying. Are they just a critical perfectionist, or is there something more going on? You may need to enlist a trusted counselor as you uncover what’s going on.
If you determine that your spouse is being manipulative and deliberately trying to damage your self-esteem, you’ll need to address that head-on. Don’t stand for mistreatment. Set your boundaries and let them know their words are demeaning, and you’re not willing to put up with cruelty.
The bottom line is that whether their underlying motives are good or bad, they’re still doing damage. You’ll need to take necessary steps to protect your wellbeing, including setting healthy boundaries. A counselor can help you learn how to stand firm so you can encourage a more positive dynamic with your spouse.
If you’d like a little extra guidance from us, take a look at our book, High-Maintenance Relationships. It offers more insight into how to manage interactions with a high-maintenance spouse. You can pick up a copy here.
Has your spouse ever made you feel bad about yourself? How did you handle it? Let us know in the comments.