Why He Hears Criticism When You Don’t Mean It

Does your husband complain you’re overly critical while you don’t feel you are being critical? Or maybe he says you nag too much (or uses a less polite word) and you honestly don’t see it.

Why He Hears Cricism When You Don't Mean It

I think part of this is a gender difference. She wants to discuss what she sees as a couple’s issue, but he hears it as her saying he has a problem or he needs to change. She doesn’t communicate to him in a way he understands that she is part of his team. She wants to have a discussion and he gets defensive. She needs to talk about something, but he hears criticism. 

If he’s putting criticism on you, then that’s what he’s hearing even if it’s not what you’re serving him. Telling him you’re not being critical when he hears critical won’t help. Instead, try different ways of approaching things to find a way that he does not find critical. 

BTW, like many things, this may be about his past and have little or nothing to do with you. If his mother was critical (a common problem between mothers and sons) he may be primed to hear criticism. One good way to help him with this is to be on his side when he does take criticism – especially from his mother. Going after mom may be a bad plan, but afterwards, you could tell your husband you wish his mother was not so unfairly critical of him.

Related: Recently my very non-critical wife posted Cut the Criticism | The Generous Wife  

~ Paul – I’m XY, and my mom thought I needed to be criticised to keep me from getting a big head.

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11 Comments on “Why He Hears Criticism When You Don’t Mean It

  1. This is so true, Paul! You put it perfectly – she sees it as a team issue, and he takes it personally.

    For what it’s worth, one expression I wish would be banned from English usage is “I’m not complaining, I’m just saying.”

    It’s an almost perfect definition of passive-aggressive, even when the statement honestly ISN’T meant as a complaint or criticism.

    Andrew Budek-Schmeisser recently posted…Your Dying Spouse 280 – Accepting ExileMy Profile

  2. Paul, it is SO helpful to have you explain things sometimes. My husband will often say to me, “I feel like I’m being attacked.” ?????????? He is six feet tall, incredibly muscular, rough around the edges (which I love), and runs a couple construction crews of very rough men. He is a strong leader and not easily intimidated. And yet he feels like he’s being attacked by little ol’ me?

    One interesting thing you pointed out, his mother is SUPER critical. Of everyone. She was very critical of his father, and she is critical of everyone from the mailman to the doctor. (She’s a sweet lady but there’s a lot of baggage there).

    Anyhow, perhaps that’s part of it. What drives me nuts is, my husband is a screamer. I hate it. He is working very hard to change that behavior. He grew up in a house of screamers, I did not. But when it gets too much and I say, “stop it, please! Please stop yelling at me!” He often will get offended and say, “well I feel like I’m being attacked!” Excuse me….what? Many times I feel like I’m not allowed to have a thought, feeling, or opinion – because if it differs from his, he feels “attacked.” I find that annoying.

    My husband is also an introvert. That makes communication hard, because he thinks it’s better to keep everything to himself. We are working on this though. I’m learning to give him space, and he’s learning to open up. But your blog is helpful because you often explain things he can’t seem to put into words.

    It’s funny, on the Myers Briggs scale we are exact opposites. Every “letter” is different. And yet we are deeply in love. It’s weird. We just clash a lot. It is the grace of God that has kept us this far.

    • My dad’s the exact same way, B. I, too, often feel like I’m not allowed to have an opinion that differs even slightly from his, and it’s beyond irritating. He won’t SAY he feels like he’s being attacked (wish he would, then I might have a chance of actually dealing with the problem) but he WILL act all huffy and defensive and then just clams up.

      It’s been my experience that FEELING like you are being attacked has very little to do with how physically imposing a person is, but rather the nature of the relationship you have with the person. Your husband has a very different relationship with you than he does with the tough guys he works with. He probably doesn’t feel too threatened by them because he doesn’t care that much what they think of him. YOU, on the other hand, have a much closer, more intimate relationship with him, and consequently your opinion of him carries far more weight. Thus, even the tiniest criticism from you gets exaggerated and blown out of proportion in his mind, and feels like a personal “attack.”

      This is not intended to excuse his reaction or behavior, of course, but perhaps explain it a little. Understanding a problem is the first step towards solving it. Hope that helps!

    • @B Funny thing – this happened to me as I was writing this post. I know my wife and I know she was not attacking me, but it sure felt like it. I took some time to pray and calm down then went on. A bit later I told her what had happened and apologised if I had said or done anything I should not.
      It get’s better, but it’s never perfect!
      Paul Byerly recently posted…Why Flowers MatterMy Profile

    • @B – As to being an introvert and the job he has, I bet he gets home ready to be done with people. He could probably go the whole night without a word. I’m not saying he should, but I bet he could and sometimes would very much like to.
      Paul Byerly recently posted…Why Flowers MatterMy Profile

      • B, I am very introverted, but I will pour my heart out if I feel safe with someone.

        Paul has a point that your husband’s career might use up his “talk tank” or “people tank.” I find this happens to me just from dealing with my children! Noise does it for me, too. Hubby loves noise and promptly turns on the TV. The kids each want their own noise. We live in a small house and I cannot wear ear buds or headphones due to ear issues, so often I just want everyone and everything to shut up and leave me alone. Nothing personal, but I am ready to crack!!

        I had to leave a church where the music was rock-concert level and the pastor yelled his sermons passionately. I would have to go home and lie down and found myself snipping at anyone who spoke to me because all my sensory receptors were fried and any chatter was like an electric shock.

        Sometimes, just 20 minutes of silence does me a world of good. A walk in the woods, so long as I don’t get bombarded at the door when I return, or a cat-nap.

        We also sleep in on weekends and use that time to connect before the day’s onslaught overwhelms me. Unless hubby starts playing YouTube videos, then it is instant stress.

        • @Libl – I work far better with music going. I have excellent hearing and I’m easily distracted, so I think it works to keep the “noise” out. It does have to be music I know – new stuff is distracting till I know it.
          Often the music is okay for Lori, but at times it becomes a problem. She knows I will gladly put on my headphones when she needs quite.
          One more common difference many couples need to work through.
          Paul Byerly recently posted…She Does What Works For HerMy Profile

  3. There are two things I’ve had to learn on this one. One is, when talking to him, (or to anyone really) to make “I statements.” You know, things like, “I feel like, or I think,” not, “You’re this, or you’re not doing that.” The more I can keep “you” out of my vocabulary, the better off I am, unless I’m saying it to compliment him on what he is doing well, what I do appreciate, and so on. The other thing I had to learn is that I can show criticism in my actions sometimes even more than in my words. When he takes the time to load the dishwasher, and I go in and reload the whole thing to my own liking: when he takes time to help me with whatever around the house and I would go back and redo it, I didn’t have to say a darn word, or even sigh, or make any verbal sound. My very action was a criticism all by itself, and he saw it and was hurt. Housework is just one example, this concept could apply to all kinds of things. I’ve learned to be mindful of criticism in my actions, as well as my words, and am working to make sure I handle things differently…or to apologize when I don’t.

    • @Alicia – The redoing is a huge issue. Plenty of men say they refuse to do certain things because of this. Then their wife complains he won’t help and he ignores her because he feels his help was never right.
      Paul Byerly recently posted…Why Flowers MatterMy Profile

      • I understand this because I have been there with my own husband. One time I had spare time while our first baby napped, so I gathered up yard debris, put it in the outdoor fireplace and started to burn it. I anticipated his pleasure at me tackling an annoying job and doing it for him. Our son woke up, so I doused what was left of the fire, and returned to caring for him. Hubby came home and flipped out. He was MAD at me “for not finishing the job.” I explained that the baby woke up, so I doused what was left because that is wise fire safety. He thought it was stupid, and I could have left the fire going. He then went into the garage and ranted and raved about it and called me all sorts of names. Days of stonewalling silence followed.

        You would think that that alone would stop me from ever doing anything extra for him. I admit that it causes fear and trepidation, but I KNOW that if I do it in love, with the best of intentions, and to the best if my ability, however he feels about it is his problem, not mine.

        I never understand the loading the dishwasher thing. I would be over the moon if I even owned a dishwasher, let alone if hubby loaded it! Currently, I am the dishwasher. We joke, “how do you turn a dishwasher into a snow blower….hand her a shovel.”

        • @Libl – It would be interesting to sit down with him and dissect why he reacted as he did. My first thought is a properly built fireplace would have been fine to leave going and “anyone should know that”. But you didn’t feel comfortable with it, which is understandable. Was he upset you didn’t know it would be okay? Was he upset you let your feelings take over? Was it about something totally unconnected where your feelings and his logic clashed?
          None of which makes it okay, but understanding why would be fascinating and helpful.
          As to snow, just removed an inch here. Will winter ever end?
          Paul Byerly recently posted…Every Newlywed Couple Should Live In An RV!My Profile

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