Stop your partner's put-downs and gripes!
Your partner might be a flat-out bully who says and does things that make you feel bad, wrong or inept. Or, your spouse might more subtly pick at you. The criticism may be said in a "sweet" or soft voice, but the sting still hurts.
When living with a critical or nagging partner, you might frequently feel defensive and lash back. Instead, your reaction when you feel attacked could be to withdraw into yourself.
There are many things you do in response to your partner's criticisms. Some of these reactions strain your relationship even more.
For example, when your spouse complaints about how you manage money, you respond with passive-aggressive behaviors like hiding your spending or purposely overspending. This could be an unconscious or unintended reaction, by the way.
You might criticize and push back. For instance, if your mate puts down the way you parent your kids, your reaction may be to look for weaknesses in your spouse's parenting and point that out.
In the short term, some of these reactions feel rewarding and comfortable. However, the lasting effects on your marriage are never positive.
1. Put your partner's comments in perspective.
Sometimes, an off-handed comment feels like a nag or a criticism when it's actually not. If your spouse has a history of putting you down, you might be reading more into a particular comment than is really there.
This can be tricky to figure out. Remember to pause and get curious when you feel triggered.
Instead of having your usual reaction to what your partner has said or done, back it up. Ask yourself if you absolutely know it's true that your partner meant that you are somehow doing it wrong, are bad, incapable or whatever it is you think he or she was saying.
Ask yourself if it's possible that your partner did not mean anything negative or critical with the comment.
If you are confused about what your partner meant, ask the question, "Would you please help me understand why you said _____." Asking for more information from your partner needs to be done with a true sense of wanting to understand and without an accusatory tone to the voice.
2. Don't take it personally.
There are all kinds of reasons why a person might be prickly and critical. In the vast majority of cases, the criticism has more to do with the one saying it and less to do with the one the criticism seems directed toward.
If at all possible, don't take it personally.
We're not suggesting that you allow yourself to be bullied. At the same time, if you can find a way to see the complaint or nagging for what it is, this can free you up to connect and have the relationship you want.
For example, if you know that your partner is under a lot of strain from work, this can help you not to take a criticism personally. If you are aware that your spouse has been feeling down or depressed lately, take this information into consideration.
Again, we're not saying that it's ever okay for you to be verbally abused. But, there are many times when refusing to take your partner's picking personally can be the key to changing this bad relationship habit.
3. Really listen to what your partner's saying.
What's going to make a positive difference when dealing with your partner's criticisms is to NOT join in with the negativity. Soothe yourself so that you don't go along with your mate to a place of irritation, resentment, and anger.
The calmer and clearer you are, the easier it will be for you to really listen to your mate.
When you really listen to the need that's being expressed (and that may be hidden in nagging or criticism), you can speak to that need and not to the criticism.
For example, your partner might seem to constantly nag you about helping out around the house and says things like, "It's up to me to keep this place clean because you never help..."
You could really listen to his or her need for not only a cleaner house, but also help in keeping things picked up and tidy.
Your response could be a question like, "In what specific ways would you like me to help keep the house clean?"
Be willing to really listen to what your partner says. There might be some truth in the criticism that you don't do your share in keeping the house clean.
Be responsible for your own habits and make sincere apologies when appropriate. This can also defuse a criticism and shift you both toward finding a resolution instead of keeping you stuck in conflict.
4. Create agreements, not disagreements.
The more you can move beyond feeling like it's your partner vs. you, the more easily you can stop the picking and complaints.
Create agreements with your partner that will address both of your needs about the situation. You can also create agreements about how you will communicate with one another.
Be sure that you are creating agreements together instead of merely imposing your idea and not really getting a full agreement.
It's unhealthy for any marriage to be filled with criticism and nagging. When you stop feeling like a victim to your spouse's put downs, you can start making changes that will bring improvement.
Susie and Otto Collins are relationship coaches and authors who help couples communicate, connect and create the relationship they desire. Click here to get their free ebook, Passionate Heart-Lasting Love.