Linda Lewis Griffith

Minimize how often you criticize

Critical spouses are those judgmental husbands and wives who chronically find fault with their mates.

No behavior or characteristic is off limits to the nitpicker. A spouse’s appearance, athletic ability, earning capacity, parenting tactics, cooking skills and spending habits are all grist for the derogatory mill.

There are lots of ways for spouses to express criticism. Most often, they use words, delivering harsh comments, sarcasm or put-downs. At other times, they turn to gestures , such as scoffing or laughter. They may even resort to long-winded lectures.

While critics may harp on a few of their pet peeves (“You never wash your car,” or “I can’t stand the way you cook eggs!”), they overlook the fact that criticism is a habit, a lens through which they unhappily view the world. Once spouses assume their critical demeanor, they’re guaranteed to find something they disapprove of. Hundreds of other, positive attributes fail to dissuade them from their quest.

Critical spouses frequently rationalize their behavior: “I’m only trying to help. You’ll be better off if you follow my suggestions .” They may even blame their partners for being overly sensitive.

Unfortunately, criticizers don’t realize the emotional pain their disparaging actions inflict.

For example, spouses who are constantly criticized don’t feel safe in their own homes. They second-guess their abilities. They become hostile and defensive. They know that whatever they do will be wrong.

When spouses are constantly criticized, they’re apt to feel anxious, have trouble sleeping, feel powerless and suffer from low self-esteem.

Even though spouses are critical, they usually have endearing traits. Minimizing the criticism and playing to their strengths can help create more harmony at home.

WHEN A SPOUSE IS TOO CRITICAL

Don’t take it personally. Your mate’s criticism isn’t about you. It’s a statement about how he or she views the world. Recognize where it stems from and do your best to detach.

Avoid responding with criticism. Hostility makes matters worse. Try to remain pleasant and lighthearted.

Minimize stress. Spouses are more apt to be critical when they’re aggravated. Do what you can to create a calm environment at home.

Implement their requests. Comply with their demands whenever possible. You’re not caving in; you’re being smart.

Seek out mutually enjoyable activities. Find ways to have fun as a couple. Involve friends wherever possible.

Start a dialogue. Begin the conversation with, “I feel bad when ” Stay calm and respectful. Don’t divert from the topic. Most spouses sincerely want to please their mates and will do their best to solve the problem.

Focus on their strengths. There were many traits you originally fell in love with. Keep those front and center in your mind.

Seek professional help. If the constant criticism is dragging you down, talk to a counselor. You’ll get ideas for improving your marriage as well as strategies for taking care of yourself.

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