The high horse of criticism in marriage

In the context of marriage, criticism is the projection of one spouse’s beliefs and opinions onto the other, write Mo and Phindi
In the context of marriage, criticism is the projection of one spouse’s beliefs and opinions onto the other, write Mo and Phindi
Image: www.pexels.com

Criticism shows up in marriage at one point or another, if not frequently.

When two people with different experiences, perceptions and ideas about how life “should” be lived and how things “should” be done, spend life together, even the most compatible couples will find themselves being critical of each other at times.

Criticism is basically the expression of disapproval of someone or something based on perceived faults or mistakes.

In the context of marriage, criticism is the projection of one spouse’s beliefs and opinions onto the other.

How it is given, how it is received, and the conversation that follows will indicate whether or not criticism will lead to deeper connection, or further distance between the couple.

Criticising your spouse is different from voicing a complaint. The latter is about specific issues, whereas the former is an ad hominem attack at the core of your spouse’s character.

In effect, you are dismantling their whole being.

It is demoralising to be treated this way when you are doing your best to make a contribution and add value to the relationship but are more criticised than appreciated.

It is important to distinguish between expressing a complaint and criticising:

Complaint: “I get worried that something bad happened to you when you’re gone at night and don’t call or pick up my calls. It may come across as policing you, but I need to know you’re okay.”

Criticism: “You never think about how your behaviour is affecting other people. Ignoring my calls when you’re gallivanting at night while I stay at home with the kids shows just how childish, selfish and illprepared for marriage you are.”

Criticism is an insidious behaviour that, when it becomes a norm in your marriage, will eat at the core of the identity of the constantly criticised spouse.

Control freaks care more about particular things than anybody else does, and they won’t stop pushing and nagging until they get their way.

We know of very few things that will shut down intimacy quite like being criticised, and it is capable of immobilising your emotional health and the maturity of your marriage.

Spouses who are constantly critical of each other have a controlling behaviour. They are high-maintenance people. They feel compelled to critique every little thing, and it seems like they believe their spiritual gift is to point out what is wrong with you at every turn.

Control freaks care more about particular things than anybody else does, and they won’t stop pushing and nagging until they get their way.

They are convinced their way is the only right way of accomplishing the best results.

They actually have a high level of unconscious anxiety that influences most of the things they do. Because they feel anxious, they are highly motivated to gain control of their world.

And because they probably have not identified their anxiety as coming from within themselves, they will assign it to the little things you don’t do “the right way”, then pointing those things out in hopes that you will “fix” the problems, thus alleviating their anxiety for them.

In a high-maintenance relationship like this, it is hard to cope with your spouse’s critical behaviour without harbouring resentment toward them.

After all, the person who is supposed to love and nurture you first and foremost is picking you apart, trying to “improve” you on a daily basis as though that’s their primary mission in life.

Most critics frame their critiques like this: “I love you so much that I want you to be aware of these few things about you that need improvement.”

Being approached in this way piles on one thing after another that you can’t do right in your spouse’s eyes. And it is crippling to feel inadequate, and/or that you are the source of your spouse’s unhappiness.

It is important to focus on the fact that your spouse is actually anxious inside.

This will help them look a little more vulnerable to you, and will help you to cultivate a little more grace and empathy for them.

It is helpful to realise that, on some level, your critical spouse is actually feeling distressed. While this doesn’t let them off the hook, it gives you a more detailed perspective on where they are coming from.

Realising your spouse is anxious also means you can begin talking with them about the problem. A single conversation won’t fix the issue, but over the course of many conversations, you can begin uncovering what they are feeling so anxious about, and perhaps discover why they have a need to control you.

Over time, these talks may help ease the tension in your marriage, and you may find that their compulsive criticism will ease too.

While you are working through these issues together, it is also important for you to have ways to cope with their critical spirit.

Learn how to deflect your spouse’s criticism. Humour is a great way to diffuse critical statements, and it can serve as a shield to protect you from your spouse’s negativity.

Also communicate to your spouse what their constant criticism is doing to you.

Let them know, “I can handle a little criticism here and there, but your constant negative behaviour is pulling my spirit down”.

Constant criticism from your spouse can fundamentally change who you are as a person if you don’t both take steps to get into a healthier dynamic.

Showing your spouse this vulnerable part of yourself can help them see what their behaviour is doing to your spirit.

They will hopefully, over time, get off the high horse of criticism.

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