How to Cope with Spouses who Blame, Criticize and Verbally Abuse

Are you ready to be part of the solution by learning how to effectively respond, rather than react, to your spouse’s blaming, criticism, or verbal abuse?

blaming, complaining, and verbal abuse in relationships
Do your responses to blame, criticism, and abuse stop it or keep it going?

It is time for you to realize that if your spouse is repeatedly blaming, criticizing, or verbally abusing you, what you are doing to stop it does not work. Until you realize that, you will continue, in both anger and frustration, to try the same ineffective strategy again and again.

Start to become more effective by distinguishing between blaming, complaining, and verbal abuse

Simple definitions

Blaming is attributing fault for a bad thing, as in

It’s your fault we are overdrawn at the bank,


because of you we are overdrawn at the bank.

Blaming is directly attributing fault and the subject is you.

Criticism is a specific type of complaining directed at a person. Saying you don’t like the weather is not a criticism because it is not directed at a person.

Example criticisms:

I don’t like the way you handle money,


Why do you spend so much?

Saying I don’t like or asking why questions both signal disapproval and, done too much, makes the other person feel like they are not good enough.

Criticism differs from blaming because there is no direct attribution of fault.

Verbal abuse is intended to hurt or demean someone by telling them they are no good or by comparing them with something bad. For example,

You are stupid,


You never do anything right.

Verbal abuse differs from criticism in that it is subjective. There are other types of verbal abuse, such as shouting and threatening. The main point I want to make here is that someone saying they don’t like your shoes is criticism, whereas their saying they don’t like you is abuse.

You are the one who decides what is abuse

Because some people are more easily hurt than others, what one person considers verbal abuse may not be verbal abuse to another. In terms of dealing with verbal abuse, you get to decide what is abuse, regardless of how your spouse thinks of it. Remember, it doesn’t do any good to argue about subjective experiences, or to try to convince someone to have a subjective experience they don’t have.

Test your understanding

If someone says, You broke the door. Is that blaming, criticism, or abuse? It is blaming because you are said to be the cause of the broken door. Note that blame is still blame, even if it is true.

If someone says, You are a lousy spouse. Is that blaming, criticism, or abuse? It is abuse because it is demeaning and subjective. Note that it is still abuse, even if it is true.

If someone says, You never listen to what I am actually saying. Is that blaming, criticism, or abuse? It is criticism because it is about a specific behavior–listening. Note that it is still criticism, whether it is true or not.

The truth or falseness of a statement does not determine whether it is criticism, complaining, or abuse.

Do you make things worse by mind reading?

Mind reading gives power to the verbal attacker.

For some people, blame, criticism, and verbal abuse all sound exactly the same.  That is because they assume things the other person is not actually saying. They hear it’s your fault, your no good, and I don’t like it, regardless of what the other person actually is saying. Learning to deal with what people actually say is part of becoming less reactive, more secure, and more effective.

If you mentally add on to what your partner is saying, it allows your partner to be more effective at saying less while also being able to deny saying it.  If you answer criticism with, “So, it’s my fault?” your spouse can easily reply, “I didn’t say that,” and your spouse would be right since he or she didn’t actually say any blaming words.

Not mind-reading promotes better communication

If you can learn to respond only to what people are verbally saying, it forces them to say more if they want you to get an additional message. If you have a passive partner, it’s particularly important to only take what he or she actually says. By not guessing that he or she means more than is said, you remain unprovoked and your spouse will have to say more clearly what he or she wants to communicate.

If someone sarcastically says they like your shoes. Just tell them thank you as if they were not being sarcastic. Continue to do that and the sarcasm will eventually stop. React to the sarcasm just once in a while however, and the sarcasm will continue.

Behavior which is randomly rewarded is not likely to stop, even if most of the time it is not rewarded.

The principles for dealing with blame, criticism, and verbal abuse

The reason it is important to be able to distinguish these three types of behaviors is because they require different kinds of responding to stop them.

A counselor is likely to give you the advice to let your spouse know how you feel when he or she blames, criticizes, or is verbally abusive. Unfortunately, that is bad advice because it not only does not stop those behaviors, it actually increases them. Being able to provoke someone verbally, rewards people with a sense of power just as much as adults as when they were kids doing it to a classmate.

When you say, I feel hurt when you talk to me that way, you will actually be saying, that’s a good way to hurt me. And, people will take advantage of that. It didn’t work in junior high school and it’s not going to work with your spouse.

It is very easy to test whether advice given to you is good or not. All you need to do is try it and see if it works. People can give you ideas, but use experience to test the validity of those ideas.

Rather than giving a verbally provocative person power, it is important to take their power away. People do not like to feel ineffective or powerless. Taking away their ability to provoke you will decrease or stop their bad behavior toward you.

The methods for dealing with criticism, blame, and verbal abuse all have one thing in common–not becoming upset. In fact, the calmer you can effectively respond, the less power the other person will have.

Expect things to get worse before they get better

Just as when using boundaries, your spouse’s behavior will initially become worse. People who are unaware of that fact often give up on using boundaries prematurely.

When a person’s usual way to provoke you does not work, whether a child or an adult, they will try even harder to provoke you. So it is important that you expect that and not think that your method is wrong. Their becoming more upset because they are not provoking you is actually a sign that you are doing well.

Consistency is key

With each method, you must work on becoming 100% consistent. If you are provoked just one time in ten, it will be rewarding enough for your spouse (or whoever is trying to provoke you) to keep on doing it.

Avoid these needy behaviors

Apologizing, promising to do better, and explaining why you did whatever you are being blamed for will all reward your spouse. Each of them shows you are provoked. If you have a spouse who regularly is provocative, do not apologize even when he or she is right. Just use an effective method, then quietly work on improving the behavior you should be doing.

If your spouse rarely complains, you may need to apologize, as your spouse probably will deserve an apology.

Specific methods for dealing with criticism, blame, and verbal abuse

Criticism can come in different forms

I don’t like criticism, such as I don’t like the way you style your hair, the way you parent, the way you manage money, and so forth can be dealt with by a simple empathetic response.


  • Spouse: I don’t like the way you style your hair.
  • You: Yeah, a lot of people don’t like this style.

Remember, don’t apologize, explain, attack, defend, promise, or become reactive. It’s okay if your spouse doesn’t like everything about you. I’m sure you don’t like everything about your spouse.

Why questions criticism just call for an answer. Pretend that the other person is actually curious and give him or her an explanation–the longer the better. Keep in mind that explanations are only needy when you are not asked for one. If someone is asking you why, a long explanation in which you are not provoked actually will be something they don’t like, so it does not reward them.


  • Spouse: Why did you style your hair that way?
  • You: That’s a good question. I think it because many years ago, I was watching the movie Mission Impossible. Well, in that movie there was this…

Nonverbal criticism just calls for you to ignore it. Pretend you don’t even notice.

  • Spouse: (bad facial expression, avoidance, etc.)
  • You: (just remain friendly or carry on as usual)

Advice criticism is pretty easy to handle. All you need to do is thank them and then do whatever you want anyhow.

  • Spouse: If you do it this way, the dishes will come out cleaner
  • You: Thanks for the advice (then just do it your way anyhow)


If you are rightfully blamed, then just agree since they are right.


  • Spouse: It’s your fault we don’t have milk.
  • You: Yeah, I didn’t buy any.

Remember, do not apologize, explain, promise, or jump to action. Simply acknowledge the fact.

Wrongful blaming simply calls for clarification and then acknowledgement if you understand why it was your fault or a whatever if it isn’t.

Example 1:

  • Spouse: It’s your fault we don’t have clean clothes.
  • You: Why’s that?
  • Spouse: Because it’s your turn to do laundry.
  • You: Oh yeah, that’s right.

Example 2:

  • Spouse: It’s your fault it’s raining today.
  • You: Why’s that?
  • Spouse: Because you stepped on a spider.
  • You: Okay, whatever.

Verbal Abuse

If you are verbally abused, then leave as soon as it happens and do not return for at least one hour. You can go to another room if you are not followed. Otherwise leave your home or wherever you are. If you are abused through text, just stop responding. If by phone, hang up. If on a date, get up and leave (call a taxi if necessary). If you have zero tolerance for verbal abuse, it will soon stop.

Remember to not be drawn back into conversation even if the other person is apologizing. Continue to walk away. Their apologies will not stop their behavior. Only your boundary of walking away or ending the conversation will, if you are consistent. After one hour, you may reengage, but do NOT talk about what happened. Just go back to being friendly again. Repeat as necessary. Although at first it may be quite a hassle, ending the abuse will be well worth it.

A couple of pieces of advice for you

If you are trying to stop your spouse from provoking you, then make sure you stop any damage you are doing, first. You can’t stop someone else’s bad behavior while you are doing damaging things yourself. My book on overcoming neediness is to help people stop their damaging behaviors which make their spouse reactive or avoidant. Neediness is not dependence, so don’t get confused. Even a very independent person can be needy and do damaging things.

Make sure you are doing what it takes to help your spouse enjoy your relationship before attempting to change your spouse’s bad behaviors. Otherwise, your spouse will do bad behaviors simply to distance from you. We don’t distance from people we enjoy. We only distance from people we don’t enjoy. If you do the right steps, in the right order, you can achieve your goals every time.

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