Criticized

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Dear Hoopers,
I’m a happily married man. At least I was. My wife and I have been married for 7 years and just like any married couple we have had good times and bad times. At several different times in our marriage, typically when my wife is going through something stressful, she becomes a bully. It seems like she finds a million and one things to be angry and frustrated about. I can mostly deal with this, however, then she turns on me. She starts with criticizing my clothing or my hair, or my …fill in the blank. You name it, she begins criticizing me.

Beyond the criticism, she generally becomes pessimistic and resentful towards me. I’ve been able to deal with most of this, most of the time. But then I get angry, I tell her about this and how it is affecting me, she says she is sorry and that she is going to stop, and then we repeat the process. Sometimes weeks later, sometimes months later. But this always comes back. The frustrating part for me is that I feel helpless. I’ve tried to talk this through with her but it only works for a while. This is hard to admit but another thought has creeped in for me. I have thought about hurting her physically in the moment. She keeps hurting me emotionally and so there is a desire for me to hit back. Emotionally, psychologically, physically. I’ve never done it and I never will, but it scares me. I need to know how to get my wife back without hurting myself or her.
-Criticized

Dear Criticized,
Marriage is not for the faint of heart. Being so closely intertwined with another person is risky business; financially, emotionally, and psychologically. You are tied to your partner. When they feel up, you will probably feel it. When they are down, you will probably feel that too.

Marriage is a human enterprise, and anytime people are involved there will be conflict along the way. For marriages to work, both partners must be able to see past the hurts of the moment and work together to make long term changes that enable the marriage to survive and thrive.

First, let’s appreciate the seven years of marriage that you two have had. My guess is that both of you have made sacrifices in order for the marriage to work to this point. Remember those times as they will help you to make it through your present struggles. It sounds as though you are invested in making your marriage work and if your partner is too, your marriage can and will work.

Your answer must start with safety. Both of you must be able to establish safety with each other and build trust around this premise. When one of you creates an unsafe environment through words or actions, you must seek a safe space. Maybe that means leaving the room (or house if necessary) for a while in order to come back to have a safe conversation about the struggles later. This doesn’t mean walking away from the conversation or ignoring the issue, but only pausing for a while. This is something you should discuss and agree on before another argument comes up. Without safety, nothing you try to say or do will matter.


Both of you must be able to establish safety with each other and build trust around this premise.

-Dr. Ryan

Once safety is established, consider what the next steps will be. I would strongly encourage you both to consider therapy. Whatever form of therapy your wife would be willing to pursue would be worth the conversation, whether that means her seeking counseling on her own, both of you seeking therapy separately, or looking into couples counseling.

I’m always hesitant to tell someone to instruct their partner to go to therapy as there are likely things that both of you are contributing to the conflict. However, if regular bouts of pessimism and negativity are a struggle for her, she may be experiencing some underlying depression or anxiety that flare up in times of stress. If she can tolerate the suggestion of therapy, she may find it quite relieving to better understand her frustration and find new ways to channel these difficult feelings.
-Dr. Ryan

Dear Criticized,
This scares me too. Emotional and verbal abuse are poisonous venoms. This can start out as a little nagging or criticizing here and there, but it can become dark really fast especially if there isn’t good communication within the relationship. Bullying is detrimental to a relationship and the response of wanting to physically hurt the person you love is frightening.


Why is your wife getting so stressed? You started by saying that is typically the foundation from where this emotional abuse begins to build. Try to identify stressors in your marriage and have a conversation about them. What are your limits? Speak your mind and be honest with her before it gets to a turning point for you. She needs to understand that her words affect you by making you sad and angry.


She has already crossed a trust and respect boundary with her words. But what if you cross the line with physical abuse?

-Kate

As a couple I would discuss initiating some coping mechanisms to help the stress from escalating. Having a conversation with your wife when the negative behavior begins, will make her more aware of how you are feeling. If you utilize the coping mechanisms next time this behavior begins and nothing improves, I would suggest seeking out a marriage counselor. She has already crossed a trust and respect boundary with her words. But what if you cross the line with physical abuse?
-Kate

The Criticizer