In a perfect world, your spouse would be your biggest cheerleader. He is the one who should lift you up and defend you against all others. When you’re feeling badly about yourself or have doubts, he is the one who should tell you that you are more than fine just the way you are – or at the very least offer positive support. So when it is your own spouse who is offering criticisms or telling you the many ways that you fall short or that you should change, it’s extremely hurtful. And it can make you question his love for you as well as your marriage.
A wife might describe an upsetting situation like this one: “when I met my husband, he made me feel like the most beautiful woman in the world. No one had seen me in the way that he did and perhaps that is why I was absolutely addicted to being around him. He gave me more confidence and I loved it. But now, it’s like he is determined to rip that confidence away from me. Because he knows me better than anyone else, he is able to point out all of the things that are wrong with me. I admit that I don’t look exactly as I did on our wedding day, but who does? I do make a huge effort, but there’s an aging process that you can’t always stop in its tracks. I’m apparently not blonde enough or thin enough. I apparently don’t make enough money and am not as interesting as women that my husband works with. Every weekend, we used to spend the entire time together – just the two of us. Now, my husband always invites friends and family along – as if it’s not enough to be with just me. As if I’m not good enough to keep his attention the whole time. This is hurting me so much. It makes me think that he doesn’t love me anymore. And it makes me think that, in the end, my marriage isn’t going to last.”
I understand your concern and I sympathize with you. I am all about saving marriages, but I think you may have an added challenge unless you can get your husband to communicate with you in a more positive way, which I definitely think is possible. He may not even be aware that he sounds so critical. And frankly, sometimes when a person isolates all their frustration on a person who is so close to them, it makes me wonder if they are just using that person as a scapegoat and projecting their own frustrations. What I mean by this is that sometimes, when people have something troubling in their lives or something that they dislike something about themselves, they will project this onto those closest to them. So when your husband tells you that you don’t make enough money, he might actually be disappointed in his own earning power. When he says you’re not thin, he may be noticing that he himself has put on a few pounds. But instead of handling that in an objective way, he sounds critical toward you.
I don’t mean to defend him. That’s not my intention. I am just telling you this because I want for you to be aware that his criticisms may have nothing to do with you and don’t reflect your worth. And I don’t want for you to take them personally or have them as stimulus for you feeling badly about yourself.
I think that before you can solve anything, I’d suggest attempting to get him to communicate with you in a less hurtful way. It’s hard to solve things when you feel personally attacked and therefore defensive.
So the next time that he begins saying things that sound personal and unfair, you might try something like: “I need to cut in for a minute because I don’t want for us to keep going on this way. When you say things like that to me, it hurts me. It makes me feel unloved. I do not think that you intend for that to happen and I have my doubts that you are even aware of what you are doing. But when you say things like that, it makes me feel attacked. It makes me feel like you don’t think I’m good enough and that you’re sorry that you’re married to me. It makes me feel criticized. I don’t think that you mean to do this on purpose but that is the way that I feel. And so it’s hard for me to actually hear what you are saying objectively because all I can focus on is the pain of the criticism. So I am going to ask you to speak of specific things that can be changed instead of general things that are only meant to hurt. For example, instead of generally telling me that I don’t make enough money, I’d rather you say something specific like what you think I should be doing differently at my job. Instead of telling me I’m not pretty enough, I’d like to hear specifics about what the real issue is. Do you understand the difference? Because right now, this isn’t getting either of us closer to what we want. It just makes me feel hurt and it probably makes you feel frustrated. So, let’s get to the real issue here. What is bothering you the most? How can we help each other?”
I’m hopeful that this conversation might begin to change things. If it doesn’t, I’d strongly suggest seeing someone objective who can help you communicate more effectively and figure out what is really at play. Because the type of communication that you’re describing rarely brings any resolution. It just brings about damage and hurt feelings.