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November 10, 2023

How Criticism Harms Your Marriage

Criticism Harms Your Marriage and How You Can Avoid It

In a relationship is when we focus on the negatives, the flaws, about our spouse and set ourselves up as their judge and jury. This article explains how criticism harms your marriage and how you can void it. It can be expressed in several ways, including disapproval, harsh critiques, attempts to correct our spouse, blame for the problems or issues in the relationship, nitpicking, or efforts to fix them. Does any of that sound familiar? The critical partner may believe that they are seeking to make the relationship better, to improve it, through their words and actions. However, their criticism may be toxic to the relationship. Toxic criticism is when someone chews you out, rips apart your ideas and opinions, or denigrates you and your abilities in front of others. This kind of criticism can be harmful to a marriage in several ways.


How Criticism Harms Your Marriage


  • Erosion of Trust

Continual criticism breaks down the trust between partners. If a person feels judged and
criticized constantly, they will likely begin to wonder if their partner accepts them, or if their
critical spouse loves them at all. The criticized spouse may then withdraw and withhold their
love and affection, in effect building a wall of protection around themselves. They will not allow
themselves to be vulnerable because they don’t view their spouse as emotionally safe. When
trust is dissolved, marriage help may be required to learn how to restore it.

  • Damage to Self-Esteem

Ideally, your spouse is the person that you turn to for love, acceptance, and affirmation. You
tend to give weight to their opinion of you in most areas of your life. They can heavily influence
your sense of worth and value. If they are continuously critical of you, then they can damage
your self-esteem and self-worth, causing you to feel inadequate, insecure, and unloved. This,
again, can lead to emotional distance and resentment

  •  Negative Environment

Toxic, continual criticism creates a negative and hostile environment. No marriage can flourish
in such an atmosphere. Conflict, defensiveness, and lack of intimacy in all areas can result. You
can have sex, but without intimacy. You can go to concerts or events, or take fabulous
vacations, but not really enjoy these experiences because of the put-downs that are always a
part of them. You may manage your finances well together but find no joy in building a life and
future with your mate. Intellectually, you may long to discuss your plans and dreams, but you
hold back because you know that your spouse will throw cold water on them.

Spiritually, there is no “one-ness” or connection at the deepest levels because of the lack of trust as discussed
above. Love cannot grow in this kind of environment. Being proactive and doing things like
attending an interactive marriage seminar can give you the tools that you need to create a
more positive environment for your relationship.

  • Communication Breakdown

Criticism is one of the top Communication Killers. (See blog entitled, “How to Improve Communication in Marriage.”) Why is this so? Well, if emotional walls are up as a defensiveresponse to criticism, there can be no effective communication. Surface conversations are the
only “safe” ones, but talking about the weather or who’s picking up the dry cleaning are not the only kind of communication that you long for and desire in a marriage!


How To Avoid Being a Toxic Critic

Why is Empathy so Important in Marriage



  • Practice Empathy

Before jumping to criticism, make the effort to understand your spouse’s perspective and feelings. Attempt to identify with their feelings. Seek to learn as much as you can about them so that you will grow in the understanding and appreciation of them. Be compassionate!

  • Use “I” Statements

If you will use “I” statements: “I want, I feel, I need, I believe, etc.”, your spouse will be less defensive. You won’t sound accusatory and will focus more on your own emotions. Just be careful not to say something like, “I feel that you….”!

  • Focus on the Behavior

Focus on the behavior, not the person. Don’t attack or criticize your spouse, but rather address
the specific behaviors that are of concern to you. Express how those behaviors make you feel
so that your spouse can better understand why they bother you. This will help to separate the
issue from their character and will also reduce defensiveness.

  • Offer Constructive Feedback

If possible, frame your concerns as suggestions for improvement and growth. Instead of
pointing out your spouse’s flaws, try focusing constructive feedback. Let them know that you
are open and willing to change and grow as well. No one grows without feedback, and that is
as true of relationships as it is in any area of life.

  • Practice Active Listening

Be attentive and genuinely listen to your partners perspective. Don’t interrupt and don’t
become defensive. Repeat what you heard them say before you respond to be certain that you
are clear on what they are saying. Validate their thoughts and feelings, even if you don’t agree
with them. Example: “I understand how this could make your angry/sad/anxious, etc.” If you validate them, the emotional intensity level will drop, and you can better communicate with
one another.

  • Express Appreciation and Gratitude

If you will express appreciation and gratitude to your spouse, you will help to create a positive
and nurturing environment. Balance criticism with regular expressions of appreciation and gratitude. It is best if you will have five expressions of appreciation and gratitude for each
criticism. Remember, building a healthy and fulfilling marriage requires open communication,
understanding, and support. By avoiding criticism and adopting constructive approaches, you
can create a more loving and supportive environment for both you and your partner.

  • Choose Your Timing Wisely

Criticism can be especially harmful when it is delivered in the heat of the moment or during
times of stress. Instead, find a calm and appropriate time to discuss your concerns with your
partner. This allows for a more productive conversation and reduces the likelihood of it
escalating into an argument.

  • Practice Self-Reflection

Could it be that your own behavior may be contributing to the issues that you are being critical
of? Take some time and reflect on your own possibly unresolved emotions that need to be
addressed. Consider what changes that you could make to improve the relationship. Work on
self-awareness and personal growth and you will be able to manage your own reactions and

  • Seek Marriage Help

If criticism is a persistent issue in your marriage, don’t be afraid to seek out marriage help
through a reputable counselor, relationship coach, marriage seminar, or marriage retreat. You
can acquire the guidance and tools to help you and your partner navigate through challenges
and improve communication.

A healthy marriage requires intentionality, effort, understanding, and a commitment to grow,
as an individual and as a couple. Love Recon resources can help. It’s what we do! You can visit
our website at LoveRecon.Org, call 866-218-1716 or email me at cliff@loverecon.org.

About the author 

Cliff Poe

Cliff Poe is Founder and Lead Coach for Recon Coaching. He and his wife, Jeani, are Master Coaches and their passion is to help individuals and couples form healthy, lasting and satisfying relationships. Cliff has a M.Div. in pastoral counseling and ministry. He enjoys writing and coaching as well as his family which includes 2 adult kids and their spouses, 6 grandchildren and a fur family composed of a Golden Retriever and a Mackerel Tabby.

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