The bossy, nagging wife is a classic American stereotype. It can be found in just about every family sitcom of the past 50 years.
Unfortunately, many men find it a harshly realistic stereotype that’s coming true in their marriage. If this is you…
- You probably feel like your wife is always criticizing you, or like you can never do anything right.
- It seems like she doesn’t respect your opinion, or like she doesn’t care what you have to say.
- Maybe your wife is starting to feel more like your mother than your spouse?
I’m not talking about the occasional nagging. Everybody – both men and women – have their occasional moments of naggyness.
I’m talking about constant, control-freak level criticism. Does it feel like there’s literally nothing you can do to please your wife?
Then I’m talking to you.
As you continue reading, we’ll learn WHY your wife is so critical, and then you’ll learn what you can do about it.
But first, let’s talk about the difference between confident bossiness vs. controlling criticism. Because there’s an important difference, despite the controversial title of this post.
Bossy vs. Critical
- Which One is Your Wife? -
Before we jump into the specific reasons your wife is overly critical, let’s talk for a moment about what is and isn't acceptable in a healthy marriage.
About a year ago, there was a huge hubbub about the word “bossy”.
Remember that? The #BanBossy campaign?
Yeah, well that was really stupid. Truth be told, it’s okay for your wife to be bossy. There was actually a great article on Esquire in response to that Ban Bossy campaign. It was written by a man celebrating his bossy, go-getter wife.
The fact is that a little bossiness is perfectly fine. It means your wife knows how to get what she wants. Nothing wrong with that.
The problem comes when that bossiness transforms into criticism. When your wife starts to attack you specifically; not just the things you do, but you yourself.
That’s what I’m talking about in this post.
[pullquote]The problem comes when your wife starts attacking YOU; not just the things you do.[/pullquote]
Here’s a helpful comparison chart to help you see the difference.
TO BE BOSSY…
- All about the task; it’s about getting things done and getting them done right.
- Is a personality trait that should be celebrated
- Is perfectly acceptable in a healthy marriage
- Means your wife can still accept and love you as her leader and equal in the marriage.
TO BE CRITICAL…
- All about the person; it’s about attacking you, not the things you do
- Is a bad habit, not a personality trait
- Is unhealthy in any marriage, and a good way to create distance between two people
- Means your wife doesn’t trust you as a leader or equal. In her mind, you don’t deserve her support
So, this post isn't really about the real reason your wife is bossy. Because if your wife is truly bossy, not critical, then that’s perfectly okay.
If your wife is critical… If she’s constantly attacking you as a person, not just the things you do… That’s what this article is about.
4 Reasons Your Wife is Critical
Have you ever asked yourself why your wife is so critical?
Have you convinced yourself that’s just who she is, or are you willing to believe that perhaps there’s something in the marriage that’s causing her to be that way?
Or perhaps there’s something missing from the marriage…
The Root of the Problem – She Wants Change
First, we need to understand why your wife is so critical and controlling. The answer is surprisingly simple. Or at least, it can be.
Your wife nags because she wants change.
Okay, obvious right? If she’s constantly telling you to do things differently, clearly she wants things to change.
But here I mean “change” on a deeper level than what you wear to the store or how you handle house chores.
When a controlling wife becomes the norm rather than the exception, it’s because something is missing from the marriage. There’s something that she needs that she is not getting. Nagging, controlling and criticizing is how her psyche responds to that need.
Sometimes, that “need” will have nothing to do with you. It could be a problem rooted in her past, or it could be related to an anxiety disorder.
However, many times that “need” is one that you, the husband, can and should fill. It’s just a matter of identifying what change she needs from the relationship.
This is important! In every case of a wife being overly controlling, it’s because she wants a change that she’s not getting. Something is out of place, and her excessive bossiness is her attempt at getting it back.
Keep this in mind as you read through the rest of this post.
She Doesn’t Know Any Other Way
Is your wife’s mother controlling or critical?
What about her father?
This applies to both men and women who exhibit controlling or domineering behavior. They grew up in a home where unappreciative bossiness was the norm.
Chances are, your wife grew up in a home with a controlling, critical and unloving parent.
Unfortunately, there’s not much you can do about this particular reason except acknowledge its existence.
If your wife did grow up with an overly controlling parent, it’s always going to be challenging for her to do anything other than be controlling.
That’s just how she’s been taught.
If this describes your wife, you’re going to need a heavy dose of patience and empathy.?
[pullquote]Chances are, your wife grew up in a home with a controlling, critical and unloving parent.[/pullquote]
If this is you, then it's very unlikely that she will ever not have controlling tendencies, and that’s okay. You can still love her regardless, and you’ll still want to check out the Do’s and Don’ts listed below.
The upside is that if your wife is only being bossy because that’s what she’s been taught, then you can stop taking it personally every time she criticizes you. After all, you’re not doing anything wrong, she’s just struggling to express herself.
You’re Not Being a Good Leader
I read an interesting article on DailyMail about how bossy wives have less sex. Granted, it's DailyMail, so every article is either about sex or celebrities, but still.
If you look at the research they cite in a different way, submissive husbands have less sex. It’s a fact.
This is one reason why leadership is the single most important ingredient to a happy marriage. See, no woman WANTS to be controlling. Your wife gets no enjoyment out of telling you what to do.
At the same time, there’s no such thing as a democracy of two. I’ve said many times that if you’re not the leader in your marriage, then you are forcing your wife to take that role for you.
If you force your wife to be the leader in your marriage, she’s going to tell you what to do.
That should be no surprise.
The woman you married already has to be a wife, lover, parent, worker and homemaker; you’re really going to make her be a leader too? And you’re surprised when she’s critical?
YOU Are Actually the Overly Critical Control-Freak,
“Often the person who is the most controlling is the one who feels the most controlled.”
That’s a quote from a resource on MarriageHelper about controlling spouses.
If you’re here reading this, you need to take a good hard look at yourself in the mirror and ask yourself, are YOU the controlling spouse here?
Despite common stereotype, there are actually more nagging, unappreciative husbands than there are controlling wives.
I don’t blame you – very few men today have been taught the true definition of masculinity or leadership. Just like the bossy wife with a controlling mother or father cited in Reason 2, the controlling husband simply knows no other way.
[pullquote]In nearly EVERY case of an overly controlling husband, the husband thinks that his wife is the controlling one.?[/pullquote]
Here are 5 quick questions to determine whether YOU are the controlling spouse in this situation:
- When you don’t get your way, do you tend to blame your wife?
- Does your wife need to change her behavior before you're willing to change yours?
- Do you ever find yourself arguing with your wife because she doesn't share your opinion?
- Do you have no or very few close relationships with friends or family?
- Does your wife seem quiet and withdrawn when you’re in public, even if she’s confrontational at home?
If you answered “Yes” to any of these questions, you need to look at yourself in the mirror and carefully ask yourself whether YOU are in fact the controlling husband, instead of the other way around.
How to Handle a Controlling Wife
- DOs and DONTs -
Now that we know the “why” behind your wife’s overly critical and controlling habit, let’s look at what you can do about it.
DO Respect One Another in Your Communication
One of the most important ingredients in a healthy and thriving marriage is mutual respect. You should respect your wife, and she should respect you.
When two people respect each other, it will show in their communication.
For example, there are certain things you would never say to your grandma or grandpa, because you respect them.
There are certain things you would never say to your best friend, because you respect them.
In the same way, there should be certain things that you just don’t say to your spouse, because their happiness and confidence is more valuable to you than voicing your opinion.
DON’T Allow Insults, and Never Start Insult-based Arguments
Insults are NEVER the right way to communicate in a marriage. Never ever ever.
Similarly, if your wife insults you, don’t let it slide. Respectfully call her out on the insult.
Say something like this:
“Honey, please stop. That’s not helpful, and you wouldn't want me saying that about you. Let’s focus on solving the problem here, not the person.”
If she continues trying to escalate her insults into a full-blown fight or argument, just walk away. Attacking each other will get you nowhere, so why bother? Step away and let her collect her thoughts; usually this is all it takes for her to identify a more productive approach to conflict resolution.
However, it’s important to note here that if your wife doesn't talk to you with a respectful attitude, you should expect change. You’re justified in having that expectation. Love can’t grow in a marriage when you water it with insults.
If your wife is constantly insulting you and attacking you, you may consider reading up on emotional abuse. It’s a real thing and it happens more frequently than us men would like to admit. Here are 10 signs your wife is emotionally abusive.
[pullquote]Love can’t grow in a marriage when you water it with insults.?[/pullquote]
DO Be Proactive
In other words, look for problems that you can solve before they become problems.
For example, let’s say you get home from work and notice that your wife is in a bad mood. Don’t wait for that bad mood to find a way to direct itself that you… Identify something nice you can do for your wife to lift her spirits.
Or, let’s say your wife always criticizes you for leaving dishes around the house. Make it a priority to start catching yourself and taking your used dishes into the kitchen without her asking.
You’ll be amazed at how much nagging and criticism can be avoided if you simply start being more proactive.
DON’T Say You’re Going to Do Things You Won’t Do
I’m actually guilty of this one…
My wife and I recently moved into a temporary rental house while we’re getting ready for our baby. We have a whole bunch of boxes in the basement that need to be organized into storage. I promised my wife that I would do a little bit of organizing every night last week so that it would be done by this weekend.
Well, I didn’t.
Surprise, surprise, my wife called me out on it. And rightfully so.
When you say you’re going to do something, you better damn well make sure you do it. Otherwise you’re basically asking your wife to nag you and criticize you.
DO Be Patient and Forgiving, Accepting of Her Flaws
Your wife is your partner for life. You love her unconditionally. This means you love her no matter what.
Part of unconditional love – in fact, what makes love unconditional – is that you fully accept her flaws and love her regardless.
In other words, there’s nothing your wife can do to make you stop loving her. That’s what this kind of love should mean.
It’s not easy to do. If your wife is naturally controlling/bossy/whatever AND your marriage is on the rocks right now, you’re in for a rough ride. Grit your teeth, be patient, and lead by example.
Remember, you’ve got your fair share of flaws too. Accept your wife for who she is, and when she tries to be domineering, simply lead by love.
DON’T Set an Ultimatum...
She Has To Change “Or Else”
As I was researching this post, I came across several different forums and Q&A sites with threads like this one. Basically, this guy does more than his fair share of chores around the house, AND he works AND he goes to school. And his wife is still being highly critical, constantly belittling him and demanding more.
The elected “best answer” in that thread? I’ll sum it up with one word: Leave.
People are telling this guy that he shouldn't have to live with someone like this for a lifetime, and that he should tell his wife exactly that. Basically, they want him to fight back and to stop putting up with her crap. They want him to say, "If you don't change, I'm leaving."
Fellas, let me tell you a secret…
If you ever give your wife an "or else" ultimatum, go ahead and call a divorce attorney right then and there.
This is without a doubt the WORST way to handle the situation. It’s responding to an attack from the wife with an attack of your own; a marriage cannot survive through that kind of relationship. That’s not how you solve problems and it’s not how you demonstrate loving leadership.
What this guys should do is calmly and firmly explain the circumstances of their situation to his wife.?
[pullquote]Ultimatums are like arsenic for a marriage.? Avoid at all costs.[/pullquote]
He should explain that if she were the one going to school and working full-time, he would hope to be more supportive and willing to pitch in than she is being right now. He should set expectations, but not set an ultimatum.
If you were in this wife’s shoes, which would you rather hear:
- “This situation clearly isn't working for you, and because of that it’s also not working for me. Can we figure out a way to make this work for both of us?”
- “I can’t live with you when you’re like this, and I refuse to stay with you forever unless you change right now.”
My guess is the first one, right?
Ultimatums are like arsenic for a marriage. Avoid at all costs.
Husbandly Leadership is The Ultimate Answer
In the end, there’s really only one way to handle a controlling wife, and that is by developing an understanding of husbandly leadership.
I’ve said before that there is a leader in every marriage. It’s inevitable… Someone will be the leader because there’s no such thing as a democracy of two.
The leader is supposed to be the husband, but if he doesn’t fill the role, then guess who has to pick up the slack?
If you aren't leading your marriage, then you’re making your wife do it for you. She doesn't want to be the leader… She’s got plenty of other responsibilities without having to do your job too.
It’s time to step up.
It’s time to take responsibility for your role in the marriage.
Even if your wife stopped criticizing you today, you wouldn’t feel fulfilled or happy in the marriage until you’re man enough to lead the relationship.
As long as you allow your wife to sit in the leadership position, you won’t feel loved, or cared for, or valued. Even if your wife is the breadwinner, you should still work to regain leadership of the marriage.
On the other hand, when you can regain control of your marriage and become the man your wife wants to follow, all that criticism, negativity and complaining will vanish. She will feel loved, valued and content, and so will you. It's really that simple.
Thanks for reading, and best of luck.
With much manly love,
I'm Stephen, the guy behind Husband Help Haven. I'm not a marriage counselor or a lawyer, I'm just a guy on the Internet who has talked to a loooooot of men going through separation... Over 2,000 in the past 5 years. My goal is to give men the tools they need to save their marriage from separation.