My Spouse’s Criticism Broke My Heart. How Do I Heal?

Criticism is toxic to happy marriages, poisoning happiness and sabotaging your growth as a couple. A critical nature kills intimacy and causes the victim to build walls around themselves in an attempt to ward off future criticism. Worse, criticism can cripple your personal growth and your emotional health.

When your spouse criticizes you, it hurts. Being picked apart and scrutinized by anyone is hurtful, but when it’s your husband or wife, it’s worse. Not only is criticism demoralizing, it lacks the appreciation and regard we want to feel from our spouse. If you have a servant heart, spousal criticism will undoubtedly break it.

If your spouse is (or has been) critical and you’re having a hard time healing, there are a few things you can do to move forward.

Understand Why Your Spouse is Critical

First: your spouse’s critical nature has little–perhaps nothing–to do with you. People who criticize are often high-maintenance, controlling individuals. Their criticism of you is a way to stay in control of the ways things are done in your household and family.

Another possibility is that your spouse isn’t pulling their weight in one way or another. When this is the case, they’re more likely to point fingers at the things you aren’t doing “perfectly” in order to keep attention off themselves.

A third scenario is that your spouse has a low self-image and feels the need to be critical of your strengths. Whatever the case, these scenarios point back to your spouse’s own proverbial “heart problems”.

Address How the Criticism Made You Feel

Communicating with your spouse about the consequences of their critical behavior is paramount to your healing. Your spouse must understand how damaging their words have been to you. It’s not likely that you’ll be able to solve the problem after one conversation. Be prepared for a series of conversations instead.

Talk to your spouse about how their criticism affected you. It’s important to be honest about how their words made you feel. Many times, we aren’t aware of how our words affect the people we love. This is an opportunity for your spouse to gain a much-needed perspective.

Be sure to let your spouse know how much you love them. Your love for them is one reason why their words hurt so deeply. That’s because you truly care what they think. Let them know that you appreciate constructive feedback when appropriate, but that the way they approach issues needs to be adjusted. Then, guide them toward a feedback style that works best for you.

If your spouse has been harsh in the past, moving forward can be hard. Suddenly, you find yourself walking on eggshells to avoid further criticism. It’s important for your spouse to understand the position they’ve put you in.

You and your spouse have the right to communicate with one another about unmet expectations, disappointments, and problems you encounter in your relationship. But you should not meet those challenges with a critical attitude. Layering criticism on top of another problem will just make it harder for you to solve the original issue.

How You Can Combat Criticism Moving Forward

Going forward, you’ll need to actively manage your spouse’s critical behavior. Communicate early and often, guiding them into more appropriate interactions with you. Here are a few ways you can do that:

  • Remember that critical behavior is your spouse’s problem, and that it’s not really about you.
  • Use humor. Humor is a great tool for deflecting your spouse’s criticism. It can also shield you from negativity they try to throw your way.
  • Alert your spouse when they’ve gone too far over the line. It’s okay to say something like, “Time-out; we’ve become too negative. Let’s pull back a little and start again.”
  • Speak up when you’re feeling the weight of their critique. Let them know when you’re feeling dragged down.
  • If all else fails, you and your spouse might need to seek professional counseling to work on your communication and problem solving. An individual who is unable or unwilling to adjust damaging behavior patterns may need a deeper intervention.

    Need extra resources to help you navigate a critical spouse? Our books, High-Maintenance Relationships and The Control Freak, dive deeper into the dynamics of difficult relationships.

    Have you ever had to confront your spouse for being critical? How did you work together to overcome the issue? Let us know in the comments.

    6 Comments

    • Lisa Adams says:

      This was great insight and advise, especially the comment advising my spouses critical behavior is their problem and not mine. I also appreciate the suggestions of ways to address it in a positive manner and intentional manner. Thank you!

    • Reader says:

      Helpful article! Could you please define criticism? What makes it different than pointing out genuine areas of improvement for real blind spots? Thanks!

    • Blog reader says:

      My husband had a critical spirit that stemmed from his pornography addiction. Sad 😢

    • CP1974 says:

      Thanks for this article, I was thinking could we get the definition of criticism as well in terms of the improvement and being a helpmate. My husband has mentioned a few times that I am critical of him and that I am controlling. However, in another breath mentions that he needs me to hold him accountable to be the husband and man of God that he knows he can be, sometimes that is conflicting with the statement that I am critical, so it would be interesting to understand the difference. The article was great, and I’m considering purchasing the book so I can be a better wife and not so critical.

    • Joy says:

      Your minimal recommendations for solutions don’t apply to women who find them self in a verbally abusive marriage. A husband who weaponizes scripture and twists God’s word and Christianity to use it against you can not be solved with humor. It’s no laughing matter to find oneself always to be the blame for what is wrong in the marriage. It’s hard to even want to be in the same room with a narcissistic husband who refuses to get help because they are not the problem.

    • I think it’s important to include that criticism does not automatically imply or include negativity. One key part of “understanding why your spouse is critical” is to find out if the critique has merit or validity in the present situation. It’s important to clarify that there is a difference between your spouse being critical and your spouse giving a critique. Know that all critiques are not negative. For example, I’m self aware enough to know that I can be high maintenance and due to the dynamics of my marriage (specifically that my family lives special needs) I’ve learned to scale back my expectations and increase my self love. All of that has allowed me to be clear about my critiques and be intentional about being less negatively critical. Usually the defining factor about negative versus positive critiques is how the critique is presented. Even the word of God offers a way to provide a positive critique – “speak the truth in love”. The truth is not always comfortable, pretty, or in one’s favor and may be a critique to you. That doesn’t inherently make your spouse negatively critical.

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