Whole Parenting Family

How I Aim to Stop Criticizing My Spouse . . . In My Head . . . Four Steps

whole parenting family

Is it almost worse to criticize your spouse in your head? I can get on a real roll doing it there. No interruptions. No reality checks. No actual communications with him. Just me and my imagination.

1) Stop Thought.

Literally. I block the cascading scene in my mind. I stop it and I tell myself you love him.

It’s easy for me to feel the litany of not only what I saw him do “wrong”–as in, not my way, but playing the scenario out and getting my blood pressure up with it. Now you’re probably a really tranquil and balanced person who always sees all sides and doesn’t ever have irrational fits of self-righteousness. Good for you. For me, I’m the self-righteous one. Yikes. That lady.

It’s almost soothing, comforting, this deep well you can go to to dip your cup in to feel like yes, i’m right; i’m the martyr mom; he just simply can’t blah blah blah. Board up the well. Go to a new homestead. Move on.

2) Acknowledge there are other valid choices beyond the one we’re attached to.

As our kids grow and need more room for their wings (and for riding their bike or listening to books on tape!!!), I’m surprised to find that I am more set in my ways. What works for me. I know it. I live it for these long days when it’s just us four sans Dada. My methods are tried and truer than they used to be.

Perhaps this sureness is a false sense of semi-control over my constantly one-lego-away-from-total-mass-hysteria life.

Perhaps it’s true and my way is the most effective way for heading off tantrums at the pass or calming supporting a child whose milk has literally spilled. For the third time.

Regardless, he can come up with different ways to deter the baby from careening headfirst down the slide. He can subdue the sad children whose exhaustion prevents them from sleeping with his own soothing phrases. And he can make mistakes. That might be his best learning tool as a parent, just as it is mine.

3) Examine how legit the critique is and talk about it if it’s a real issue.

If what he’s doing is bothering me enough to replay it in my steel-trap-elephant-memory mind (that somehow forgets to fill the car up with gas. always), I know that means I either need to address it or let it go. Before I bring it up to him, how legit is it?

Too legit to quit?

Really, Nell? Really? Yes.

Remind myself to not complain about it to every available female ear.

Just take it to my mental check list for validity:

am i hungry, sleep deprived, hormonal? is he any of the above? 

is this a recurring habit that we’ve already discussed or a one-only time?  

do i do this same thing but expect that it’s okay for me but not for him?  

can i address it kindly right now or should i wait til I’m not emotional?    

4) Forgive and forget.

If it’s not a legit, valid concern after I’ve examined it through the aforementioned microscope of questions, I try to drop it. If I really want to feel extra self-righteous, I could even tell him I’m forgiving him. Of course, that obviates step three, but maybe I need that some days.

Otherwise, I have to actually literally make myself drop it. Don’t hoard it like a squirrel in summertime with nuts, to chuck at him later when I’m really upset and looking for grievances to lob. Forgive in my heart and choose to move beyond it. All without telling him I’m so crazy.


Alrighty, wise friends. How do you stop the habit of unfurling spousal criticism that can run through our minds?

You might like:

6 Ways I’m Saving My Marriage from My Kids

7 Kindnesses for Your Spouse When Raising Small Children

6 Reasons I Love My Husband Better After 6 Years of Marriage

Twinges of Cynicism in Marriage

6 Ways I’m Honoring My Spouse


  1. Annery on August 11, 2015 at 6:32 am

    Great list/process!

    • Natural Mama Nell on August 11, 2015 at 7:41 pm

      If only it were fool (me) proof! Always a work in progress.

  2. Camilla on August 11, 2015 at 7:52 am

    I have walked in your shoes with the same heart and mindset. This is my heart, too. I will share where I am a bit further along this journey. After 20 years and seven kids, the above list is too much for me now. I have had to simplify. I used to think my problems and irritations in my marriage were a bigger deal, but now I don’t see them that way. Maybe I am now too far removed from my initial ideals of marriage–that were not remotely accurate. The truth is I am a sinner married to another sinner, and it will be so until death do us part. Here is how I roll these days: I remember to be an “eraser.” I am like a white board–I see it in my mind. I continually forgive and forget–erase anything that has offended me. My husband has a clean slate before me at any given moment (forgive us our trespasses like we forgive those who tresspass against us). Squirt, squirt. Wipe, wipe. Secondly, when it gets hard–the second I find myself muttering or shaking my head and the name-calling comes to the tip of my tongue–I try to stop and repent and offer it up with a prayer. An Our Father. A Hail Mary. I carry it in the moment with humility and patience. My selfishness and critical/judmental spirit is a sin–I offer it up with repentance and ask forgiveness. All throughout the day. Every day. While I homeschool the littles (3, 6, 7, 10), and wrangle a slimy, noisy 15-month old, and shepherd a teen girl, and work on keeping my home a peaceful haven for the glory of God. I pray, and imagine my offering of incense floating up before the throne of God. And He hears me. And we are blessed. Even if my husband’s sins against me never cease (and oh how little they really are even though it can feel like the end of the world).

    • Natural Mama Nell on August 11, 2015 at 7:40 pm

      Love your wisdom!!!

    • AnnaP on August 26, 2015 at 7:25 pm

      Thank you for your wise words!!

      • Natural Mama Nell on August 27, 2015 at 6:16 am

        you’re so kind.

  3. Lea on August 11, 2015 at 9:15 am

    I think it’s so very important to remember just how sensitive men’s hearts are to our attitude towards them too. They feel the attitude we’re thinking, and we’re either pushing them to guilt and despair, or inspiring them to be a better parent. Am I treating him like my husband, spiritual leader or my immature son? I try to stop and think, do I want him to criticize me like this when he feels I’m not getting it right? These kids belong to him 100% as much as me, he is just as entitled to his parenting style as I am. Who am I to judge how a fellow child of God handles his kids? And then try not say anything unless I would say it to another parent.
    I am a recovering judge-er, learning to die to my competitive, self preserving attitudes. So this post was a great reminder.
    Thanks Nell.

    • Natural Mama Nell on August 11, 2015 at 7:40 pm

      Ah so so wise and true!! Thank you for your perspective.

  4. Annie on August 11, 2015 at 4:26 pm

    This is good. I’d add that in my 12 years of marriage (and 5 kids), I’ve been humbled to realize that, although I love and cherish my husband, when it comes to how he is with the kids I can really sell him short. As in, assume he’s a dunderhead who knows half as much as me! There, I said it! A light bulb went off one day when he was insistent on a kid-related topic and I realized he really did have more insight than me. And my revelation was, “ahh, the Holy Spirit is guiding BOTH of us as parents.” Sometimes my husband will have a really important, strong feeling about something and I might have a different opinion. I’ve come to the point where if he has that resolve about a topic, I know I should trust and honor him. In a way, it has brought me a sense of relief, because I realize that I don’t always have to be the one to make big decisions, or question how much he knows. I’m learning to trust him more.

    • Natural Mama Nell on August 11, 2015 at 7:40 pm

      Yes! You nailed it! Total dunderhead!

      Beautifully put: trust and honor him. It’s not all on our shoulders.

    • dweej on August 12, 2015 at 11:38 am

      I’m loving this post and the comment thread, especially this one. I said something similar (15 years here) in an interview yesterday and all morning I’ve been thinking “when people listen to that, they are going to be shocked to know what an unreasonable, horrible harpy I really want to be….” But yay! I’m not alone! Maybe it’s “normal” for a certain temperament. Not good, of course, but at least normal, which we can manage and address with much more ease than “completely crazy” 😉

      • Natural Mama Nell on August 12, 2015 at 11:08 pm

        Hahaha solidarity! I’m finding more and more that simply knowing my emotional makeup and likely pitfalls is more than half the battle for peace. And knowing his. And knowing even though I may be right 80% of the time* I can’t be a jerk about it.

        *statistically possible, right?

        Love your insights, Dweej!

  5. Laura on August 12, 2015 at 12:28 pm

    I think you are in my head! Why is it so hard to build the habit of stopping the floodgates? I totally pinned this so I can find the questions again when I need them. Thanks, Nell!

    • Natural Mama Nell on August 12, 2015 at 11:06 pm

      Awwww heck you’re so brilliant, I’d love to be in your head and learn allll the microbiology ways!

  6. Kathleen johnson on August 13, 2015 at 10:01 am

    All, good thoughts! We will be celebrating our 50th anniversary tomorrow! Just so you know, this problem of conquering our mental criticism never stops! In fact, you learn to keep your mouth shut (it can get worse) because it isn’t worth the hassle it’s going to be if I bring it up. The problem is just what another commenter posted. Just because you haven’t said it, they know and feel the criticism. I have something that works well for me. It changes my attitude. In my mind I attempt to connect with my husband on a spiritual
    level. Example – Every time I pick up the pair of shoes and return them to their
    place, I thank God for him and the opportunity. I pray for his good and
    protection as he is at work. I pray for him to rest well as I hear his rhythmic
    breathing as he sleeps, plus much more. The man is very successful. I know in my heart I have had a critical part. It frees him to use his mind to develop his
    potential, because I’m not dragging him down with mental criticism.
    Btw, we do have disagreements, but the mental criticism is nixed.

    • Natural Mama Nell on August 14, 2015 at 10:42 am

      What lovely insights! Thank you so much for being here!