The Incredible Shrinking Spouse

shutterstock_200590883You’ve met them — men/women who over twenty years of marriage lose their joy and wither at the hands of their biggest critic  their spouse. Is this you?

Picture it. Joe comes home after working all day in the heat at a job he really doesn’t like. He took it after he got laid off from a job he worked faithfully for twenty years. His wife yells, “Wipe your feet; you always track in mud. And you smell. You have the worst body odor. Kids, tell your father to go get a shower. What a pig!”

Or Melissa, who worked her fingers to the bone getting the house spotless, receives this after Johnnie left one toy on the floor. “Why don’t you ever clean up after those kids? I work all day and come home to this? Do you sit around all day? You’re useless.”

These oppressed spouses did hundreds of things right all day long, but their critics only see what’s wrong. No matter what they do, it won’t be good enough. They lose hope. The appreciation for who they were when they married has dissolved into total disdain for who they’ve become. Or maybe they haven’t changed – it’s just now all those things that attracted them to begin with annoy them — a laugh, the way they breathe.

What happened to your biggest cheerleader who you couldn’t wait to see at the end of the day? Instead, the beleaguered husband might wish he didn’t have to go home or the downtrodden wife may wish her husband didn’t.


Is criticism bad?

Criticism itself is not bad. The question is whether a request for change is for the good of the person, your marriage or God’s kingdom, and how it’s delivered.

In our Word Weavers’ group, we use a sandwich method when critiquing a writer’s work. We start with a positive, offer ways it might be better, and then offer another positive. It’s forward-looking. It edifies. Can you imagine if instead someone told a writer their piece was awful, and they should just quit writing? It would crush them and they would wither. Is that what God wants?

“People can tame all kinds of animals, birds, reptiles, and fish, but no one can tame the tongue. It is restless and evil, full of deadly poison. Sometimes it praises our Lord and Father, and sometimes it curses those who have been made in the image of God. And so blessing and cursing come pouring out of the same mouth” (James 3:7-10a, NLT).

Do your words bless or curse? Do your words say I love you? Would Jesus speak the way you do to your spouse? That’s the standard, after all (Ephesians 5:21-33).


The critical dance

No one likes to be criticized. Society teaches us to look for the negative and is often sarcastic in ways that do not honor His creation. Attitudes and behavior patterns are formed over long periods of time. You blurt out the criticism without love, the receiver lashes back in defense and the cycle begins. The good news is that these destructive cycles can be broken.


A blessed change

Are you stuck in bad patterns of dealing with issues? Want to revive your marriage and build up your spouse?


To the critic, before speaking:

  1. Consider and pray about whether the request for change is for the good of your spouse, your marriage or God’ kingdom. If it’s not, it’s probably not important.
  2. Only bring up issues once. If your spouse chooses to ignore or reject the suggestion, then turn it over to God and move on.
  3. Don’t get mad if someone else makes the same suggestion and your spouse accepts it like a new idea. The goal is that they change – not that it was your idea. That’s God at work making a change you prayed about.
  4. Choose the right time. People have to be ready to receive criticism. Ask permission to speak, or ask for a time to bring it up. Always speak in private… never in public or in front of the children.
  5. Always start with something you are thankful for, and then suggest how it might be better. Your requests should always build up and never injure the soul.
  6. Avoid ““never,” “always, and “you” statements,.” Speak about today forward. Forget yesterday.


To the target of a critical spouse:

  1. Do not react by defending or returning a personal attack. Try to deflect or defuse it with humor. Don’t join the dance.
  2. Listen for truth; ignore the rest.
  3. Let them know that you care how they feel and suggest a better way to discuss it.
  4. Ask if you can set a time to discuss it.
  5. If your spouse is naturally critical, they may not change. Accept it. If you don’t react, they may quit.
  6. If you find yourself on the edge, stop and write five to ten things you are thankful for.


Are you building up your husband/wife or causing him/her to fade away?

“For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of what we eat or drink, but of living a life of goodness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. If you serve Christ with this attitude, you will please God, and others will approve of you, too. So then, let us aim for harmony in the church and try to build each other up” (Romans 14:17-19, NLT).


Patricia Hartman: Forensic CPA/partner at Kofsky, Hartman & Weinger, PA. Speaker. Author of “The Christian Prenuptial Agreement” available at President of South Florida Word Weavers. Board member Living Water Christian Counseling.

Share this article