How to Deal with Critical People…

What do I do when he criticizes me?

I get literally gobs of questions from women every month, and at the core of them is the above question.

What’s a god-fearing girl to do when she’s hurting because of something her husband (also insert, mother, sister, daughter, son, friend, neighbor, boss, etc.) says to her?


So today, I took a few moments to assemble a response. Some of these things may not work for you, and this may be worth what you paid for it, which is nothing. I do have some experience with criticism, from both ends, but again, it’s MY experience.

Ask yourself, “Is there any truth in what was said?”

Because as wise and mature women, if even a 3 year old tells us our shirt looks icky because there’s a big coffee stain on it, we should actually listen, instead of discounting the content of the message because of the way the messenger said it, or who the messenger is. And God will also use rude people – they actually have worth, whether we think they do or not. And just because someone is rude, that doesn’t mean they are also WRONG. Let’s be above the delivery and the messenger, and listen instead, to the content.

Ask yourself, “Why do I care?”

If you are hurting because of what was said, you need to understand your reaction. Here’s why: we often wrap our identity up in what other people think of us, instead of what God thinks. I have a friend who once responded to her husband’s comment of, “Are you really serious? You literally want to just give away 10% of our income? Are you so bad at math that you don’t even realize that is actually $5,000??” with, “Yes, I want to tithe like God suggests in the Old Testament. He says He’ll bless us if we do. He says to test Him on this. I’m game for that.” She ignored his criticism of her, and stuck with the content, AND said the right thing in response. Let’s rise above the criticism and respond to people the right way, regardless of how they communicate with us.

Did you know nearly ALL conflicts begin with a harsh start up? If you respond in kind, you’ll generate defensiveness and argument further. Change the outcome of your communication by choosing to STOP being led by others. It’s also humble to realize that we’re often wrong about the motives of others. 

If you are getting worn out from dealing with criticism (which happens, btw) ask questions and make statements to change the course of the communication.

Most people DEFEND their position or themselves, which is absolutely the wrong approach. Did you know that? Research shows that this effort actually has the opposite effect. It also results in both people feeling defensive, which exacerbates the original problem. Here are a few suggestions of questions/statements you can make to change things in the middle of conflict:

  • You may be right about that. (use this when the criticism or complaint is about something small, unchangeable, irrelevant)
  • I know you don’t mean to criticize me, but I’m starting to feel that way. Can you say that differently?
  • Please stop. I want to solve THIS problem together, not rehash all the times I’ve let you down in the past. I’m happy to revisit those conversations later if we need to, just not right now.
  • Is that a criticism?
  • You’re right. That is a problem. Will you help us out by dealing with it?


Resist the urge to join in the spouse-bashing. 

After receiving a complaint or criticism from your husband, that’s the LAST time you should offer up what your issues are with him. Seriously. Be wise in how you time talking about things with him. If you do it when he brings up something with you, all you’ll do is make him more upset because he won’t feel heard, and before you know it, things will have escalated into a fight. Just rise above, take the high road, and deal with the content of the communication.

Check your own communication – make sure you are NOT dishing negatives (complaints or criticisms) to your husband. 

This is going to sound really super lame-sauce, but women need understand that our guy is not wired for gobs of negative communication. He can’t handle tons of emotion from us, either. Research shows that men have a physiological response to emotions that sticks around. That fight or flight thing? It hangs on with men, (at least about 85% of them) while women can calm themselves seriously more quickly. His heart will pound and he’ll have the adrenalin surge going for a while – which is typically NOT conducive to building relationship. So vent with your girlfriends (or better yet, God) because they can handle it, and make sure you choose really wisely what you are going to dish to your husband if it is negative.  If you don’t, he’ll start tuning you out just to survive.

Bottom Line: Just because someone criticizes you doesn’t mean you need to react. Instead, respect yourself, your God, and your spouse – and RESPOND instead. Wisely.


Hope you’ve subscribed to the blog here (in the sidebar) to journey through The Respect Dare with us as you go through the book. Next week, we’re on #3.  Yesterday, I blogged for Focus on the Family on their Dad Matters blog – about WHY your husband being a good dad matters to your marriage.  Feel free to forward – I tried to write it in a non-offensive way! 🙂  Crazy week with the broadcasts. If you didn’t hear them, click here to listen. And you should totally follow Leah if you are a young wife with little people, and Debbie if you have tweens, teens, or twenty-somethings. Like us on Facebook so you can know when Daughters of Sarah becomes available in video format this year, or schedule one of our weekend retreats. 2014 is nearly full, but 2015 might be an option.

At any rate, I’m so glad we’re all in this together, on the journey at the same time. Iron sharpening iron… Dare you today to chime in on the environment you are creating in your home… What do YOU feel led to do? How have YOU responded to criticism?

Comment, share… let’s change the world together.

Love to you,


titus 2 women leadership

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

13 thoughts on “How to Deal with Critical People…

  1. When is it appropriate to acknowledge a fault in my husband?
    Our 20+ years of history is one of struggle. Twelve years ago I learned of my husbands raging sexual addiction. It was destroying his life and the family’s. Some changes were made which have improved the situation but unfortunately I was ill equipped, without foresight as to how to handle the situation. I did learn to pray desperately.
    Under my husband’s addiction lies self loathing, disgust, humiliation, fear, inadequacy, shame, guilt, anger, blame and I’m sure more. It is covered with pride, control, blame, anger, frustration, defensiveness and thick protection. His defense and aversion to any acknowledgement of wrong, is immediate. This has made my job of being a Godly wife challenging
    Emotional and borderline physical abuse has conditioned me to stuff, ignore, excuse, minimize, my feelings and thoughts. Voicing what I felt was wrong was like pulling teeth.
    I have learned that not voicing wrong is wrong. I have learned that unconditional love is what is right and part of love is anger and wanting to protect him as mine.Love is sticking around and wanting to help facilitate what’s right. My tendency is a heart divorce. I self protect by saying I don’t care about you. I know this is not honoring my marriage vows.
    So I pray desperately that God will help me love him and do what I can to be a help. My confusion and dilemma is when to speak and when to only pray. I know God is doing a great work that I could never do but where’s my part in all this? I find it so hard not to take his anger personally as if I am constantly saying something wrong. Ahh, to just have the delicate sensitivity to know when to speak and when to be silent.

    • Baby. I’m so sorry you are going through this. I’m sorry he is, too. Your part is to do as you feel led. Would he attend a Gottman workshop with you? Would he attend Gottman training? Oftentimes strength is mis-percieved as “assertiveness” which has a harsh tone to it.

      Being submissive means being open to the man, but not the behavior, but even with that, there’s no harshness in the delivery. No anger. Just compassion. And yet it is okay to cry when he hurts you, and let him know that you are angry and will talk later. We cover these things in Daughters 3, which unfortunately isn’t out there yet. 🙁 Love and prayers to you, beautiful. I understand your struggle. Keep persevering and stay in touch, let us know how you are doing.

      Love to you,

  2. yesterday after church I waited for my husband as he had an ushers meeting we were to celebrate valentines day and go to dinner as I work graveyard shift, well after waiting two hours, my husband hugs a woman from church in her 50’s and calls her sweets. then comes to me lets go to dinner. We have two separate cars as I was going to leave early but I bought his bible into usher class and he asked me to go out to dinner with him…after the sweets comment I did not want to go to dinner with him, I said I see you later and decided to go out to dinner myself but he followed me, he doesn’t see anything wrong with his comments and that I’m over the top, my whole life ive been abused never loved by mother father and now second husband, I don’t think its too much for my husband only to call me sweetie, babe honey a matter of fact I told a fellow co-worker that babe is only for my husband to call me. I’m 66 he’s 75 and I just lost 75 I being ridiculous. I need other womens comments

    • I’m so sorry you are dealing with this! It would be hard, indeed. And I’m so sorry you’ve been abused in your life. HORRIBLE. I encourage you to seek healing from these things if you haven’t already – Dare two speaks to some of these issues and might shed some light on your situation.

      Without knowing all the details, it’s hard for me to comment, but I would encourage you to take a look at Phil 4:8-13. It’s true he is ignoring the fact that his comments hurt you – but he also wants to take you to dinner, so he may literally not really be considering your feelings, just being nonchalant. He needs help learning how his behavior hurts, and you may need some help wrapping your identity up in God’s opinion of you instead of your husband’s. And from my own experience, which, honestly may not apply here, I know that things are often, usually, in fact, not as they seem. If this is the worst he is doing, (and I can’t possibly know if it is, so please don’t take offense at this, and hear my heart – I don’t mean to justify his behavior if it is abusive, just what you shared here doesn’t represent that) it is a small thing.

      Praying for you, Jeanette. Hang in there. We are glad you are on this journey with us. 🙂
      Love to you,

  3. I’m glad to see I’m not the only over sensitive and defensive wife. I’m guilty of this all the time, I’ve been really struggling in my marriage and wondering if things will ever get better. I plan to read this book and hope that I can apply the principles to turn this marriage around before it’s too late. Thank you Nina.

    • HA! You are in good company here! 🙂 Of course they’ll get better, but they’ll probably get harder first, so we can learn something new and be stronger on the other side. I’m so glad you are here, Shoshana. You are not alone. And where there is breath, there is HOPE.
      Love to you,

  4. Learning to NOT be defensive is hard.. I have taken my husband’s (perceived by me to be) criticism for YEARS! I let it eat me up and allowed myself to believe that he was being abusive with this.. when in fact that is NOT the truth. We all have differing opinions and if I allow his opinion to dictate my actions then that is MY fault. He criticises my faith right now, but that doesn’t mean I will give it up again. This time I will not give up what I know to be right and good. PLUS, if he sees me stand up for God and sees it help our lives, then he will be less likely to criticize when I want to do other things. In time with a respectful attitude he will come to see me as a strong confident loving spouse and that is what I want
    WHen I get defensive, I tend to lash out.. that is disrespectful.. And while some of you may still be thinking, why do I have to work so hard? It is because God knows you are ready and in the bible ( I forget the verse) it says an unbelieving husband can be saved by the faith of his wife..

  5. This is the hardest thing I face with respecting my husband. I’ve always reacted defensively. That just starts a cycle of both of us becoming defensive and escalates into arguments. I’m really working right now to improve my self control, but it seems my heart reacts to the hurt much faster than my brain can think to hold my tongue. Yikes this is hard stuff!

  6. This will give me things to think about. I’ve been more sensitive than I’d like to be since I was a little girl. Thank you.

    • I was also too sensitive, Karen. 🙂 Thankfully, God’s thickened the skin I’m in! 🙂 He’ll do this for you, too. 🙂
      Glad you are here!
      Love to you,

  7. My counselor was telling me the same thing this week. Unfortunately, the criticism is part of a cycle of emotional abuse, and now that I’ve recognized that, I’m prayerfully considering whether to stay or to go.

    • Andrea –
      I’m sorry you are in this situation. SO difficult and GOOD FOR YOU for getting help. Not sure if this applies in your case AT ALL, but sometimes people don’t understand that what THEY are doing is unhealthy – if that applies and he’s willing to get help, I’d like to encourage you that direction. Having said that, however, make sure you and your kids are safe.

      Love to you, and SO glad you are here!

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