When a husband says, “My wife constantly criticizes me,” what do you do? Help him deal with the issue using these tips.
You’re having lunch with a colleague when he starts talking about his wife. “My wife constantly criticizes me. All she’s been doing lately is just nagging. It’s like I can’t do anything right. It’s always, ‘You forgot to take the trash out’ or ‘You didn’t load the dishwasher the right way.’ Nothing is ever good enough for her.”
How do you respond as a marriage mentor?
- How does your wife’s criticism make you feel? Discouraged, failed, like quitting?
- One of the top reasons people feel unsafe to share their emotions in a marriage is criticism.
- It might be hard to do, but it’s important to share your feelings with your wife — she probably doesn’t know how you feel.
- Let’s schedule a time to talk again after you have a conversation with your wife.
As a mentor, you don’t have to find the perfect solution for a couple. All you need to do is use the L.U.V.E. response (Listen, Understand, Validate, Equip).
Show him that you’re listening. Provide good eye contact and quickly move on to “Understand” so you can help him focus on his emotions instead of her comments and behavior.
Ask clarifying questions so you get beyond “the tip of the iceberg,” which in this case is the wife’s critical comments. The goal is to understand what’s happening on a deeper emotional level and help the husband recognize all that he’s feeling.
Mentor: “How does it make you feel when your wife reloads the dishwasher after you just loaded it? What message is that sending you?”
Mentee: “Well, it’s obvious that I’m an idiot and nothing I ever do is good enough for her.”
Mentor: “Wow. It sounds like you’re frustrated because you feel like you’ll never measure up to her high standards.”
Mentee: “Totally. I don’t even know why I try. She just constantly criticizes me anyway.”
Repeat back to him the emotions he has shared with you.
Mentor: “I hear you. It sounds like you’re really discouraged, like you feel like giving up.”
If you can, share a time when you felt the same way in your marriage: ”I remember a really dark season in our marriage, and that’s how I felt. That was an awful place, feeling like nothing I ever did was good enough. It made me really want to quit. And it actually forced us to get some help from a counselor. I know that’s a discouraging feeling to have.”
Here’s where you’ll supply a tool, skill or information the mentee can use.
Encourage the husband to share his feelings with his wife, even though it will probably be difficult for him to do.
“The issue here is that this husband is not feeling safe,” says Greg Smalley, vice president of Marriage and Family Formation at Focus on the Family. “When people are constantly criticized, that creates a marriage that doesn’t feel safe. When people feel unsafe, their hearts close and they totally disconnect.”
As a mentor, you can “breathe courage into him,” Smalley says. You can do this by helping him practice the conversation with his wife. He could say something like this to his spouse: “I can tell you’re frustrated. I know I’m feeling frustrated. I’m feeling that nothing I do is good enough, and I’m feeling super discouraged right now. I don’t know what to do with that, but I’d love to talk about what’s going on for me.”
The more this husband focuses on his emotions, Smalley says, “the more likely his wife is going to connect with that and say she didn’t realize how he was feeling.”
Of course, you’ll want to pray with the husband. You can also offer to keep meeting with him, at least to follow up on how the conversation went with his wife. You could even suggest reading a marriage book together. Doing that will help him get focused on something he can control — his behavior.
Have a discussion with your spouse about criticism. When has this been an issue in your marriage? How do you handle criticism? Do you feel safe sharing your emotions with each other? Why or why not?
To learn more about closed hearts in marriage and how to create safety in marriage, read chapter 11 in Reconnected and view Reconnected: The Digital Experience.
What if the conversation doesn’t go well? Maybe the wife pushes back, saying, “I just want you to unload the dishes. I don’t need all that psychobabble stuff.”
If that happens, encourage them to see a counselor. You can help them find a counselor, or they can call Focus on the Family at 1-855-771-HELP (4357) weekdays from 6:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. (Mountain Time) to request a free consultation with a counselor.
© 2022 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. Originally published on FocusOnTheFamily.com.