How to Deal with Condescension and Criticism in Your Marriage

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By Ellen Rohr, M.Ed.

Do you find yourself succumbing to critical thoughts when disapproving of your partner’s behavior? If so, you may in dangerous marital territory.

When negativity, criticism, and a condescending, superior attitude begin creep in to your marriage, you may be on a slippery slope toward letting these relationship-damaging factors begin to override the positives in your relationship.

Hurtful, damaging behaviors such as criticism and contempt may be difficult to identify as it often becomes ingrained in spousal interactions over time. Consequently, it becomes an unfortunate and alienating part of your communication.

Marriage is meant to be a safe, accepting environment.  The last thing you want is for your partner to resent and avoid you. Yet, your relationship will suffer if you don’t have a plan to avoid and recover from such negative obstacles.

Here are steps toward putting a stop to this negative behavior and begin to heal your relationship:

What Do Condescension and Criticism Look or Sound Like in Marriage?

If a condescending tone and criticism in your marriage are routine, it may be difficult to accurately identify them because you have become accustomed to this pattern of communication.

However, with mindful and diligent attention, eventually you can identify unproductive exchanges and hurtful communication. Sometimes contempt and criticism will be hidden in humor or sarcasm. Most often, criticism comes out so easily that you are unaware of it. The first step is to be aware of your hurtful words and negative behaviors, and then review and challenge your own thoughts and commentary repeatedly to make the necessary change.

For example, ask yourself the following:

  • Are your compliments genuine?

  • Are you constantly correcting your partner?

  • Do you in any way demean or dismiss your partner?

  • Do you often take over conversations or limit your partner’s expression?

  • Do you use the word “you” often when having a disagreement with your spouse?

Additionally, take stock of any power struggles in your relationship.  How respectful are you of each other’s needs, time, careers, and parenting styles? Do you both feel that the marriage allows for growth and change without ridicule or resentments?

Why It’s Crucial to Nip Negative Communication Now

Continuing condescension or criticism in your marriage hurts you both. Though you may release steam in the moment, you slowly erode your connection and damage your marriage.

When you use contempt and criticism in communication with your partner, you question your partner’s worth and character, insinuating that you feel you are superior to them. As a result, loving feelings and goodwill deteriorate, straining your bond. Ultimately, condescension and criticism build walls of dissatisfaction and disconnection in your marriage. Closeness, intimacy and forward movement are lost.

How to Cut Out a Habit of Condescension and Criticizing Each Other

Once you’ve acknowledged and accepted responsibility for your offensive words and behaviors, you’ll need to commit to a better communication practice. Try these:

  • Forgive yourselves and each other for the negativity.

  • Commit to practice better, more edifying interaction.

  • Practice more active listening to understand your partner, and less opinion-sharing and advice-giving.

  • Assess your own feelings and emotions, and use “I statements” to express your disappointments to your partner.

  • Talk about your expectations, listen to your partner’s expectations, and learn to be more generous toward each other.

Lastly, try to shift your perspective and become more open to dialogue and compromise. Train your mind to look for positives rather than negatives. Actively look for ways to be grateful and express your appreciation to your spouse. These actions will help break down the tendency to use condescension and criticism in your marriage as verbal ways to connect.

Remember, too, that stress and anxiety can negatively impact a marital connection. Check-in with yourself and your partner to ensure emotions have a voice and that you’re available to support each other. Release steam together instead of at each other.

Finally…

Healthy communication is vital for the life and success of your marriage. If you recognize a pattern of damaging condescension and criticism in your marriage, seek the help and guidance of a skilled couple and marriage counselor.  You and your partner can find more loving, supportive ways to express yourself and your needs, which will repair and reinforce the foundation of your marriage.

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If you recognize any of your own marital patterns in this post, Ellen Rohr, M.Ed, LPC at the Relationship Counseling Center of Austin can help. To schedule an appointment, give Ellen a call at (512) 270-4883, ext. 115, or request an appointment with her through the RCC Austin Scheduling page. We hope to hear from you soon.