What Happens in Marriages when a Spouse Criticizes?
In a relationship blog article I published last month (which I’ll link here) I talked about how to complain effectively in your marriage instead of criticizing and today, this article is focused on what happens in marriages when a spouse criticizes. So, let’s dive a little further into criticism and what our natural tendency is when faced with criticism.
Criticism is a way of expressing someone’s hurt feelings, disappointment, anger, sadness, etc through putting the blame on the other person. By saying that the problem is about their partner and what is wrong with them or what is missing within them rather than an issue between the both of you.
When criticism is present, it can feel like an “attack.” And typically, more times than not, we are likely to respond to an “attack” with defensiveness.
What Happens in Marriages when a Spouse Criticizes: Defensiveness
What is a normal natural tendency response when feeling attacked, can actually begin a loop or dance between you where one partner is criticizing and the other is defending and nobody’s needs or feelings are being heard or responded to. I see this many times in my therapy practice. It’s such a common dance between couples…and one that can actually help us learn more about each other as a result than if we avoided this dance all together.
But…there are ways to respond and change this dance or loop happening between you. One is to begin learning more about criticism and how to change that to a healthy complaint instead of a hurtful criticism.
What Defensiveness Can Look Like
Defensiveness can look a couple different ways.
- One way is by responding with a criticism of your own right back
- Another way is to take a “innocent” stance
What Happens in Marriages when a Spouse Criticizes
One way is responding with a criticism right back is:
” Well, you don’t ever notice me.”
“You always nag at me. I can’t come home for a minute without you always wanting something. You’re so needy.”
A second way is responding with an innocent or victim stance is:
“I am always am here for you. I really am. I get excited to see you when you come home and you just ignore me. I do everything for you and don’t ask for anything. (This can be said in a tone that most partners report as “whining”)
What Happens in Marriages when a Spouse Criticizes – How to Respond in Ways Other Than Defensive
It can be really hard to do in the moment but the most effective way to respond instead of becoming defensive is to accept responsibility for any part of your part in the complaint. This could be a tiny part that you can claim or maybe a bigger part. But the point is, not to get stuck in what % is or is not on your side of the street (so to speak) but rather, to say…
“Yeah, I can understand where you might be feeling that way. I was (x, y, z – fill in the blank) these last few days and I haven’t been very (x, y, z – fill in the blank) when I get home.”
Marriage Counseling Can Help
For many couples, marriage counseling can help develop this skill. Marriage counseling can help couples move into a new way and healthier way of relating to each other. This can help couples become closer.