“Ask a Priest: How can I handle constant criticizing from a spouse?”

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Q: I wonder if you could give me some spiritual guidance for how to handle constant criticizing … from a spouse. Thank you. -L.G.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: A spouse who criticizes constantly can be challenging, to say the least. It might be one reason why Our Lord gives married couples a special sacramental grace to help them live together.

There are no guarantees that a spouse will be perfect. On the contrary, the early years of a marriage can be a slow, painful discovery of just how imperfect a spouse can be. Yet, imperfections in a spouse can be an opportunity for the other’s growth in holiness. For instance, annoying habits and constant nagging can be among the traits that try, test and toughen a spouse’s exercise of patience.

Since I don’t know much about your specific situation, I can only offer you general principles.

First, be sure to pray daily for your spouse and for domestic peace. Offer up sacrifices for these intentions. Take the initiative spiritually. This will include cultivating a merciful heart toward your spouse — accepting your spouse sincerely even with all his or her flaws, just as God accepts and loves each of us with all our flaws. “Blessed are the merciful,” our Lord explained, “for they will receive mercy” (Matthew 5:7).

Second, try to read up on dealing with marital problems. Catholic psychotherapist Gregory Popcak has written or co-written a number of good books on marriage, including For Better Forever: A Catholic Guide to Lifelong Marriage, Just Married: The Catholic Guide to Surviving and Thriving in the First Five Years of Marriage, and A Marriage Made for Heaven (Leader Guide): The Secrets of Heavenly Couplehood.

Another good point of reference is Focus on the Family, a Protestant ministry that offers valuable resources and even free marriage counseling

Depending on your situation, you and your spouse might benefit from counseling. The habit of nagging can have various roots, including those that reach back to a person’s childhood.

In the meantime, try to keep up a spirit of hope. Stay in touch with friends and extended family members; they can help you maintain your own psychological balance. Take advantage of the sacraments of confession and the Eucharist.

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  1. Constant ‘fault finding’ without real reasons for such… might be a spouse that is looking for reason to ‘walk away’ . . . if you dare ‘criticize back.’

    If the criticism is mere ‘nit picking’ . . . TURN A DEAF EAR . If the criticism is because of ‘the manner you dress, eat, sleep or snore’ or that you aren’t doing your part in the upkeep of house… take stock of your appearance, your eating, your manners, your financials, your work or lack of around house…CHANGE how you dress eat, snore etc. (see what that brings)

    Then . . . try reverse psychology… it is possible this spouse IS LOOKING FOR PRAISE … for every criticism, ignore it and speak a compliment of SOMETHING of her (him if the spouse is male to female) Criticismof manners… IGNORE and say a simple oh you always carry yourself SO BEAUTIFULLY at parties… it’s why I love you. PRAISE PRAISE PRAISE and end it with … it is why I love you. (do spontaneous acts of love, bring flowers home when work day over) Take spouse out to dinner once a week as ‘date night’ POUR BURNING COALS ‘of love’ over this INSECURE spouse… and see if he/she begins to ‘feel loved’ so as to IMITATE LOVE. (If the criticism without merit continues… tell spouse you believe you and spouse need to talk to A PRIEST or a CHRISTIAN counselor (Catholic preferable)

    My experience is those who constantly ‘find fault’ are insecure and immature in the understanding of LOVE.

  2. If truly the spouse is unreasonable, give spouse what he/she wants. A separation. Not divorce. Absence may make the heart grow fonder… so the saying goes. Move back with parents, or get a small studio apt. OR one room. If there are children involved, communicate with them if they are old enough to understand, that mommy and daddy need to live alone but that you will visit on weekend. (AND THEN, have a family weekend barbecue, trip to the park, or amusement park or some outing or go to movie together or rent a video.)

    If no children, separate but meet for dinner once a week BECAUSE OF CARE… one treat one week the other the next or …whatever one works out.

    Divorce is hard so try to avoid with counseling. If one divorces… as a Catholic, re-marriage is not allowed
    unless there is grounds for annulment.

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