6 Ways You’re Unintentionally Belittling Your Spouse

I remember walking in on an argument between my wife, Susan, and one of our kids. Their discussion didn’t seem to be progressing very well and I decided to step in. Unfortunately, that just made things worse. Unintentionally, I started speaking to both of them like they were kids, which really upset Susan. She was right to be angry with me. She’s an adult, and speaking to her the same way I spoke to a child was belittling.

I was just trying to fix things, but I never considered how my tone would make my wife feel. This can easily happen in marriage without us even realizing it. What other things do we do that inadvertently demean or belittle our spouses? If we know what we are prone to do with our words, body language, or actions, we can recognize it and course correct before hurting the person we love the most. Here are 6 ways you may be unintentionally belittling your spouse.

1. Comparing Them to Others

This is harmful no matter what the context. When we compare our spouses negatively to someone else, we tell them they are somehow “less than.” Your spouse doesn’t want to hear that you think someone else is better at something. Comparison is a trap that leads to hurt feelings.

2. Downplaying Their Contributions

Marriages are partnerships, and the very idea of a partnership rests on shared responsibilities. It’s rarely 50/50, but in a partnership, everyone’s contribution has value. If you do more of the housework and your spouse does more of the financial planning, neither is contributing less than the other. Each is filling a need when it’s presented. Stop placing more value on your to-do list than your spouse’s.

3. Criticizing Them Publicly

When we criticize our spouses in front of others, it can humiliate them. Even if you think your critique is funny, it could leave your husband or wife feeling embarrassed. But your spouse’s feelings are more important than getting a laugh. While some of the people who hear you might think less of your spouse because of you, and others might think less of you for doing it. Public criticism, at a minimum, leaves your spouse thinking less of him or herself. For that reason alone, we should avoid publicly criticizing.

4. Talking More Than Listening

There are plenty of reasons we choose to talk instead of listen. We think we are smart. We are being selfish. None of these are good reasons, especially when the person we are talking over is our spouse. This person should see you as a place of safety, trust, and openness. When we talk more, we subtly say we know more. When we listen more, we subtly say we care more. Instead of talking too much to your spouse, try actively listening with your ears, eyes, mind, mouth, and heart so you are caring for him or her as best you can.

5. Trying to Fix Instead of Feel

My friend and All Pro Dad Podcast host Ted Lowe is a marriage expert. He talks often about his wife Nancie’s frequent plea: “I don’t want you to fix it; I want you to feel it.” Nancie’s request is the same request many spouses have. Feeling is better, sometimes, than fixing. What spouses want more than answers is empathy. Ted writes, “While fixing her emotions is not the answer, empathy in marriage is not passive. Empathy is active.”

6. Interrupting

Usually when we interrupt, it’s because we feel like we have something better to say. It’s as if to say, “Yeah, yeah, that’s great. But listen to what I think…” It makes your spouse feel like his or her thoughts, expressions, and ideas are second-rate. This is belittling your spouse in a way that cuts to his or her core.

Sound off: Why do you think belittling your spouse is hurtful?

Huddle up with your wife and ask, “Have I said or done anything lately that you found belittling?”