My wife is always telling me off – I feel like I can’t do anything right

19 Feb 2024

"I feel like I’m constantly in trouble with my wife. Our children are now in their teens and we have aging parents to care for too, but when we do spend time together I notice she is critical.

Even when I make an effort, I don’t feel like I can do anything right.

I still love her and want us to be back in love but have we simply outgrown each other?"

Ishaac, 42

‘No two individuals are expected to grow at the same pace and in the same direction,’ says Kenny (Photo: Malte Mueller/Getty Images)

There’s a real sense of hope in what you’re saying – you still love your wife. 

Firstly, it’s worth identifying where this feeling  inside you of being criticised is coming from. It’s very common for the scared boy in every man to feel in trouble, especially with women. This frequently stems from the first six or seven years of childhood, when the maternal, nurturing role is extremely important.

I wonder if as a little boy you were criticised or emotionally withdrawn from in order for you to behave well? Old-fashioned parenting methods, even in very loving homes, frequently included humiliation, such as children being told off in front of friends or family, or emotional withdrawal, such as a refusal to show affection. This can lead to a lasting sense of being “in trouble”. 

Very often, men are looking for validation in relationships and will turn to their partner to take care of the vulnerable child we all have inside. There’s nothing wrong with individuals in a couple being caretakers for each other while one is going through pain. But, if you constantly look to your partner to look after you, then that becomes an issue: a  lot of relationship resentment can stem from one partner having to parent the other and in your family, there are already teenage children who need looking after and older relatives who are needing care.

This might not ring true to you at all, but if it does then I’d recommend that first you recognise what is going on. Then, if you’re feeling vulnerable from criticism, take a deep breath and get present, ground yourself in the here and now, rather than letting past trauma or habits affect you. If you’re in the present, the child inside you can be safe.


Secondly, it’s worth considering your wife’s childhood and the normal expression of love she grew up with: in some families, love can be expressed as worrying or over-criticism. It might be that she needs to update how she shows love to you.

If  you sense irritation or dissatisfaction from your wife, try cutting to the chase and asking, with curiosity, what your wife needs at that moment. Do you need me to listen to you? Do you need action? Do you need me to fix something? If she needs you to hear her, then try reflective listening, where you check with her that you’ve interpreted what she’s saying correctly.

So if she’s criticising you for not taking the bins out, you might reflect back something like: “What I’m understanding is that if I don’t take the bin out you feel overburdened and you’d like me to acknowledge these feelings as well as make more effort with the household chores.” Do keep in mind that one person’s needs are not necessarily the other’s responsibility.


At  the same time, get clear about your own needs. Through holding men’s groups, I’ve seen how many men are completely flummoxed at the idea of recognising their own needs: it’s not something they’ve ever asked themselves. Instead, they’ve spent their lives trying to feel safe by trying to keep out of trouble and be seen in the right light. It can be a gradual process learning to get in tune with your feelings and starting to recognise your needs.  

It’s also important to understand whether there’s any pattern to when your wife is critical: perhaps it times with sleep deprivation or insomnia, or speaking with a troublesome friend or relative, or a need for space. I also wonder if hormones might  play a role, particularly if your wife is a similar age to you and may be going through perimenopause or menopause.

Do bear in mind that no two individuals are expected to grow at the same pace and in the same direction. It sounds like the two of you are entering a new phase of life as your children become more independent and your parents more vulnerable. This has an impact on you both as individuals, and as a couple. It might be that communication and adjustments need to be made, and you need to give each other space  for individual growth.

If this growth is restricted, or demonised, the other partner might feel their wings are being clipped and that can only bring trouble into the relationship, but if it’s honoured then it can bring more love. I hope that through open communication where you both share your vulnerabilities and understand who you really are in this phase of life, you open up to a deeper connection and different level of love.