The Link Between Depression and a Critical Spouse
You feel like you can’t do anything right in your husband’s eyes. And you are tired of feeling like you aren’t good enough. You worry that if you don’t get help, you will start to disappear or become depressed.
You have created this great family, but you just aren’t your usual happy self anymore. You are starting to absorb your spouse’s negativity. In doing so, you also start to believe that his negative opinions define your worth. But if you are reading this, you are searching for ways to not letting someone else’s negativity make you feel so unhappy.
Emotional Fusion in Marriage as Problem
The reason we feel like our moods and identities are at the mercy of others is that we feel dependent on others to make us happy. This works both ways. For the spouse who is frustrated or negative, he or she may feel like the other is to blame for their unhappiness. And the spouse that is being blamed, feels like the other one is making them miserable too.
Both spouses are half right. What goes on within one person, impacts what goes on between people and vice versa. But luckily, we can also find ways to be more emotionally separate and connected. That is, to let our spouse own their own feelings and reactions, even if they think we are to blame. And even more amazing is caring about your spouse’s feelings without assuming their criticism means anything negative about you.
Understanding Criticism and Spouse’s Reciprocal Response
First, let’s define what it means to be critical. I think of it as judging, blaming, and negatively focusing on another person. Sometimes people really think their way is better. While other times, people think they are helping by being critical. And sometimes people are merely projecting how they feel onto someone else. Regardless of the reason, anyone, male or female, can be critical of others.
So how do you respond to your spouse when he or she is critical of you? Many people have a stress response to hearing criticism from others. Meaning you may fight back, defend yourself, or even freeze up. And before you know it, you are feeling just as negative or in a big fight with your spouse.
4 Ways to Deal with a Critical Spouse (to Prevent Feeling Down)
So if you are tired of joining the tension and absorbing your spouse’s negativity, what do you do?
- See the Criticism as a Reflection of Your Spouse: Resist the temptation to assume your spouse’s negativity has anything to do with your worth or value as a person. Instead, find a way to think about your spouse’s criticism as a reflection of their mood or stress level. When you see your spouse’s negativity as a reflection of them, then you will be able to think your way through your options without absorbing the negativity too.
- Respond without Counter-Attack-Defend: Another temptation is to defend yourself or make a counter-attack. If you do this, you have joined the other person’s internal conflict. When you defend yourself, you unconsciously internalize that there is something to prove to your spouse.
- Tell Your Spouse About You: Instead of joining the negativity and blaming your spouse too, tell him or her what it’s like to talk when they’re negative. For example, you have a hard time listening to them when they get intense like this. At this point, some people will calm down, but others need more time.
- Set and Hold onto Boundary: Don’t try to talk them out of being intense, but let them know you see that they are worked up. You just aren’t going to keep talking with them until they calm down. Let them know you will check in with them later to see if they are in a better place to talk.
The more you are able to think differently under pressure, the more you will be able to see your spouse’s criticism as something about them. Ultimately, we want to be in relationships where we are free to be ourselves. And that means letting others be free to be themselves too and even owning their own reactions. When you can find a way to do this without being critical in response, then it’s less of a marital problem and more of a problem for the person that is feeling negative.
You can care about your spouse without having to take the blame for their unhappiness. In doing so, you will become less dependent on your spouse’s approval, and start to reclaim your separate but connected identity.
Reflection: What helps you deal with criticism from others in such as way that it doesn’t lower your self-worth?
Marci Payne, MA, LPC offers individual counseling for stressed and anxious men and women who are in tough relationships. Counseling is available at her Independence MO office and online for Missouri residents (including Kansas City, St. Louis, Springfield, Columbia and elsewhere in the state). I help Missouri women with critical partners reduce their stress and find happiness again. And I help Missouri men connect without pushing their partner further away. Schedule your free 15-minute phone consult with Marci to decide if working with a counselor is the next best step to take.