The Thing I Hate Most in Marriage

There is so much to love about marriage. If you frequent this blog, (which I hope you do ’cause I think it’s pretty awesome) you have no doubt read some of the mushy-gushy things my husband and I have to say about one another.

I think marriage is bliss. I think more people should be married and, of course, stay married.

On the flip side of that coin, however, there is something I hate in marriage. This particular action makes me visibly agitated and uncomfortable. I also think this thing is one of the most destructive behaviors within marriage.

So, what am I talking about?

Public belittling or disrespect–the verbal barrage–the beating up with one’s words.

Nothing makes my skin crawl like watching one spouse belittle, demean, or disrespect the other spouse. Yes, I know I’m tricky because while this isn’t happening in my own marriage, that doesn’t mean I can’t stand witnessing it in other marriages.

Not to pick on the ladies, either, but most of the time when I have witnessed this behavior, the woman is the guilty party.

Public Humiliation Stinks…Bad

I had one friend, early on in marriage, who would talk to her husband, in front of our group of friends, as if he were a dumb, useless, idiot. I would always leave their company feeling so sad for him…and for their marriage.

I wondered how he could maintain any sense of manliness, dignity, or leadership when his wife was continually treating him like a boy.

Yes, I should have said something. Looking back, I wish that I had spoken up. But alas, I did not, and I can’t help but wonder if this is still going on in their marriage.

Dennis Prager, my favorite radio show host, has discussed the issue of public belittling on his show frequently. He suggests that the act of publicly humiliating your spouse is actually more harmful (in the long run) than a one-time affair.


Initially, upon hearing this, it might sounds plain ridiculous. However, he explains that a one-time affair, while extremely painful, is just that–one time–whereas a lifetime of constant public humiliation and disrespect is simply toxic.

That toxicity can then begin to produce resentment. I have heard it said by a marriage expert that resentment is essentially the one thing a marriage cannot survive.

So, why Does it Happen?

If we know public disrespect of a spouse can lead to an unhealthy marriage, then why does public humiliation or disrespect become a pattern in some marriages?

I think many women do not understand what it really means to respect one’s husband. They do not realize that all of the little remarks, eye-rolling, snickering, and disagreeing in public can equal a highly disrespected man.

In my own marriage, if my husband and I are in mixed company and I want to tell a story about him, which I suspect he might find embarrassing (which is difficult to do, because the man does not get embarrassed), I always pause to ask his permission to share the story.

If he says “No,” then out of respect I do not share the juicy story. Likewise, he gives me the same treatment.

My mother-in-law says that parenting is 10% watching and 90% respecting your child’s personhood. Respecting their personhood means treating them like we would treat an adult (to some extent). We wouldn’t yell at an adult,  be rude, or generally unkind to an adult, so why would we treat our kids this way?

The same thinking follows in marriage. Why do some people think that, just because you are married to someone, you reserve the right to talk to them (and even in public) like they are pond scum?

Yet, despite what could be a detrimental behavior within marriage, I have also known many couples who have acknowledged their failing in this area and transformed their marriages.

One of the most powerful catalysts for change, is the book, Love and Respect, by Dr. Emerson Eggerichs. Beyond the book, there is an entire Love and Respect ministry that offers workshops, conferences, DVDs and more (they did not slip me some incentive to promote them either; I just happen to love the ministry and have seen it change marriages).

Marriage takes effort, a willingness to serve, and constant commitment. Throwing public humiliation into the mix is both harmful and unnecessary. May we love our spouses with our actions and our words.

Do you agree or disagree? What do YOU think is the most destructive behavior in marriage? Have you ever known a couple (including yourself) who has struggled in a certain area? How has God showed up?

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31 thoughts on “The Thing I Hate Most in Marriage”

  1. I totally agree. I give credit to my mom for this, because not only did she give me a great example (never putting down my dad in public, as well as in front of her kids), but she also made it her purpose to teach me this- I almost feel like it is a #1 rule, and I (like you), cringe when I see it happening.

    I also see people doing a few other things that they think are not the same- but they actually are-
    -joking about your husband in front of other people, teasing him, and saying “I’m TOTALLY joking”, but your husband isn’t laughing.

    Even if it IS funny, even if your husband is sometimes okay with it- it is really hard to gauge, and when he isn’t, it is almost worse then ridicule and mean words- the height of disrespect by laughing AT your husband.
    – “correcting” in front of other people. It’s awkward when we are having dinner with another couple and one of them is trying to tell us a story, and the other one is constantly interrupting them correcting them, saying, “well, that isn’t entirely true”….or “No, that’s not how is happened”, or ….etc….

    I don’t interrupt or correct my husband unless it is absolutely important, and even then- I do it in a loving, gentle, respectful and light hearted tone (instead of a condescending mean one).

    1. Ugh. That scenario you describe is SO uncomfortable. You are right too, that it is the person doing the belittling who is made to look horrible.

      I have caught myself poking fun at Jonathan a few times in public. He’s always a good sport, but I never want to make this a habit or become callous to his need for respect.

      Not correcting in public is a huge one too. I know I have done this a few times and I stop myself immediately. Wow, if husbands and wives just tried to watch that behavior alone, it would make such a difference!

  2. This is a great lesson for single women too! The more you know, hopefully, the better prepared you are. I would like to point out that belittling someone in public is far more damaging to you that it is to the person you are picking on, regardless of what is being said. I have seen this happen with a boyfriend and girlfriend before. She was being so mean and all I could think was jeez I hope he doesn’t marry her. I also wanted very little to do with her, if you’ll treat someone you are “in love” with that way, I would assume you would probably do it to your friends too and who wants that!

    1. Awesome point Kristin. The person doing the belittling is the ugly one!

      On the flip side, how we treat our friends and family is a great indicator of how we will treat our future spouse, as well.

  3. I think that we should be practicing this before we get into marriage. I have noticed while hanging out with friends that many of us are extremely sarcastic and basically belittle each other. In order to be prepared for a close relationship, like marriage, I think that we should be practicing positive affirmations, asking to share one’s stories with others, and respect. As a community we should be building each other up, not tearing people down. Sarcasm is another issue; I have never really liked sarcasm, because it never has the tendency to build one up or show love. Unfortunately I struggle with it sometimes because I use it as a wall when I become uncomfortable in social settings.

    1. Aimee,

      Sarcasm is a great example. We often “get away” with being sarcastic, when in fact, it is just as destructive.

      I used to be so sarcastic and then one day I realized, it just isn’t cool. Like you said, i want my words to edify and build up, not tear down.

      Such a great comment Aimee. Thanks for sharing!

  4. I would add that another habit that is very damaging is when a spouse complains or belittles one’s spouse in front of friends…even if their spouse isn’t present.

    My husband says it really grates on him when, say, a friend of mine will speak in a “jokingly” derogatory way about her husband. Or poke fun at him. Or complain about him. I know that among women it’s kind of accepted that we will moan and groan about our husband’s habits–trying to make it funny. Sometimes we try to ‘one-up’ each other: “You think YOUR husband is bad? Wait till you hear what MINE did!”

    Even if one’s husband can’t hear what we’re saying..our words shape our thoughts as well. The more negative things we say about our spouse–no matter if they are within earshot or not–the more negatively we will think of them.

    1. Karen,

      I so agree. I have had a few friends that think girl time means “rag on my husband time.”

      Why do some people think it’s okay to say something when your spouse isn’t around that you would never say when they are around?

      It is still disrespectful of them, your marriage, and the friends you subject to your complaining to.

      Great addition Karen!

  5. Great article. Too bad my wife probably won’t read it.
    I have been faithfully married for almost 20 years now. My wife used to always be respectful of me and I of her as well. However, slowly over time she has become more contentious and disrespectful to me, especially in front of her mother. Later when I ask her about what and how she treated me , she becomes very agitated and turns it around to be my fault somehow.
    I feel her main issue ( which she denies) is that due to the recession my once profitable business is barely making it. And she has taken a job teaching school to help pay the bills, (she did not have to work the previous nine years). Because of this, I feel she sort of lost respect for me as the provider for the family.
    Some ladies reading this may unknowingly feel the same way about your husband as my wife does about me. But just remember, as a man, It is tough to pull yourself up and get back to winning when your wife has lost faith in you.

    1. Sidney,

      It’s the opposite for me. My husband does the belittling behind my back. It may be with his guy-pals or he may post negative comments regarding my financial assets in the marriage.

  6. I completely agree. Like Karen said, it happens a lot with women when husbands aren’t around. It almost feels like it has become part of our culture for women to belittle their husbands. It’s especially dangerous because that kind of behavior sucks you in. If you don’t say something demeaning about your own husband, you feel like the other women think you’re judging their marriages or trying to act like your marriage doesn’t have any issues. It’s time for us all to focus on building up marriage, not tearing it down.

    1. Julie, you make a very insightful point in stating that for many young women, criticizing their husbands has become part of the culture. Friends feed off of friends, as well. My close friends and I are very careful not to talk badly about our husbands to one another. Just because a husband isn’t around, doesn’t make it any more acceptable.

  7. The worst case of a spouse belittling another spouse in public was a husband insulting his wife… So this isn’t just the wives. it happened when she was present or not, and I often wondered: if he says these things to her I public or to others when she isn’t present, it must be even worse in private. Turns out, I was right: he was emotionally and physically abusive.

    And that is what I hate most in marriage: abuse. It is more common then we want to believe.

  8. I agree as well. One of the first things I remember about my husband along these lines is when we were at a gathering for my work. A song came on, and I was dancing a little in my chair to the song, and he gave me this look…THE look, that says, “Stop it, you’re embarrassing me.” As if that weren’t enough, he had to TELL me, in front of the people that I work with, that I was embarrassing and that I should stop it at all costs. I remember how hurt I felt at that point…it ruined the rest of the evening.

    The positive part of this story is that we worked it out. It happened early on, and so we sat down and discussed what had happened, and how it had made me feel. Part of the problem was that he was so used to being alone, and not having someone else around all of the time. He wasn’t used to being in this relationship, and wasn’t used to feeling connected to me in that way. I suppose being a stud and a babe magnet was something he couldn’t let go of. lol

    In all actuality, the incident made us talk more openly, more honestly, and more frequently. I try to understand where he is coming from, and he does the same. Sure, sometimes he does something that gets on my nerves, but I try my darndest to keep it to myself if we’re in public. And he tries to do the same. If either of us mess up, we talk about it together when we get home.

    It’s something that is so easy to fall into, but is something that can be so damaging if not discussed. Kudos to you for bringing it up, and reminding me to be more mindful of it in my own relationship.

  9. I agree with you that it’s the most destructive behavior in a marriage. Sadly, I see it happen more often than not. It’s in movies, on TV shows and I grew up seeing this with my own parents. I think when you grow up seeing it everywhere, you don’t even notice you’re doing it.

    I’ve noticed women are more likely to roll their eyes, belittle their spouse with comments about how useless, dumb, ignorant, lazy they are. In my experience men are more likely to make embarrassing/rude jokes about their spouse and then follow it up with, “I’m just kidding!” As if that takes away the hurt feelings.

    I’m guilty of correcting my boyfriend in public. I realize it’s seriously rude. One thing my boyfriend always reminds me of is that I never correct any of my friends and I wouldn’t correct a stranger, so why him? I think respecting others is one of the most difficult things to learn- especially in today’s society where it seems respect is a forgotten value.

  10. It hasn’t gone away completely, but very early on in our marriage, my husband and I had a discussion about how we don’t live in a sit-com. In sit-coms, they get “laughs” by putting each other down and talking bad about each other. It’s (theoretically) always meant in jest in his family, but that’s just what they do. It’s what he’s used to. And it’s what he’s seen in tv “marriages” that he subconsciously expected ours to emulate. Thankfully, he could see how hurtful it was to me and has attempted to change. Now it’s a joke – someone just has to say “sit-com” and we both straighten up!

    1. Melissa, oh my gosh, I love this comment! Yes, sitcoms are meant to be 27 minutes of husbands and wives making each other the butt of jokes. I feel like men especially, in sitcoms, are painted to look like idiotic, flaccid, useless, morons–good for a joke and nothing more.

      Love that you just say “sitcom” and correct yourselves. Sounds like you have a healthy, fun, and realistic marriage.

  11. this is one of your best, imo! AND, on the subject of discipling people, young women particularly, this is of critical importance. as someone else said in recent days, we’re talking about “the relationship here on earth that matters most.” i told my kids just last night that if there’s anything i want to be known for, it’s that i Love and Respect my husband. that would, of course, be second to that i love and follow Jesus. :)

    1. Amanda, your kids and your husband are blessed to have you! By respecting and loving your husband you are displaying such a powerful image for your kids that will no doubt affect them as adults, as eventually spouses of their own.

  12. I would agree, Nicole. In a public forum it is even more destructive than in private. The weight of those words are exponentially multiplied. I wrote last week about damaging words. It was from the perspective of the school yard nemesis. I wonder if all the time people spend trying to convince kids that “words can’t hurt you” causes them to be haphazard with them.

    1. Ken, great point. We throw around the nursery rhyme, “sticks and stone…” but the truth is words hurt. A lot. And we all know it.

      Gonna check out that post. Thanks for the link.

  13. I wasn’t going to comment when I saw this post was about marriage since I am divorced. But then I read the post and HAD to comment. I love this post and I think it’s so important that people think and pray about this. I agree with you completely. There is no reason and no excuse to belittle your spouse in public and I have never understood why people do this. I had a friend that was extremely bad about this and her husband ended up having an affair and they divorced. (I’m not blaming her for the affair because I don’t know the whole story, but either way the belittling didn’t help the situation.)

    I certainly wasn’t the perfect wife when I was married, but I’m thankful that I had enough wisdom to never talk down to, or about, my husband in public. If I ever remarry, I pray that I will again have the wisdom not to do that.

  14. I totally get this post and it’s extremely personal for me. Thank you for opening up this conversation, Nicole.

    The toxicity of the words in my 6-year relationship with my husband is a large part of what led to it’s ending. I wish I would have known this and noticed the patterns earlier because maybe we could have salvaged the shattered pieces of ourselves and the damage of our words. It’s been excruciating to experience not just within the marriage but in building up my self-confidence after the fact. Words literally trigger post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety attacks, and uncontrollably sobbing for me.

    But I know GOD’s words to me are what matter and they are the key to my healing….
    “I have a hope and future for you,”
    “I never abandon you,”
    “I bring you into a spacious place because I delight in you,”
    “I will bring you out of the pit and put up up on great heights,”
    “I am your shelter, your fortress, your protector,”
    “I love you, sweet daughter.”

    Scripture speaks so much about the power of words and how they can light up the soul or how they can steal life away. I’ve been the deliverer of harmful words and the victim. One of my prayers this year is the last verse of Psalm 19: “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, oh LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.”

  15. this actually reminds me of a similar issue that also happens between friends (former friends to be exact >:/ ) only an idiot would believe that “just words” won’t leave any damaging scars on an interpersonal bridge, nobody forgets hurtful attitudes that turn social functions into some deceptive minefield. i for one would not stay involved with a significant other that verbally abuses me, it shows true feelings towards the other individual. i hope karma catches up to them so they can learn from their mistake only after its too late and they got nobody left in their social circles

  16. I agree with the author 100%. I think so many marriages failed these days because in most cases woman belittles her husband in front of her own family, friends and even sometimes in public. let me tell you these types of behaviours can deflate your husband’s self esteem drastically. Instead of belittling you husband, you should be his motivator, praise him, appreciate him for the little things he does and cherish him with love. By doing these, you will make your husband happy and a happy husband will do anything within his power to make his wife the happiest woman in the world.

  17. I’m guilty of this. I sometimes get carried away and start digging at my wife in front of others, usually because I’m frustrated about of something she has or hasn’t done and this is my chance to take a cheap shot and expose her. Sounds wrong but the truth is it’s my way of getting a bit of revenge because I’m too afraid to bring up my issues with her in private for fear of her reaction. That’s the problem with women they want to wear the pants in a relationship but don’t like the consequences that comes with them.

  18. This post has been so helpful in explaining some of my recent feelings. We recently flew abroad for my husband’s cousin’s wedding and we were all really excited to be there and celebrate their special day. During the reception in the evening my husband gave a speech where the first line started of with ” marriage really sucks” and progressively got worse with how you have to tolerate each other. I felt shocked to my core and everyone turnned and laughed at me. I felt so humilated and so angry and when my husband asked me to dance with me I told him where to go. I fedl so embarassed and betrayed on so many levels. Later that evening he turned it on me saying it was a speech that was funny and everyone loved it except me and I made the speech about me. He has since apologised but I am having a really hard time getting over this as I feel betrayed on many levels. Any tips would be welcome.

  19. Couldn’t agree more with what the author has exposed here. However, having done “5 Love Languages” and “Love and Respect” with my wife to have her know beyond any reasonable doubt that my languages are definitely “Words of Affirmation” seems to do nothing but up the ante for her disrespect. I get more respect and positive word reinforcement from the cat then I do from her. So much for being married to a follower of Christ.

    That said, you asked “Why do some people think that, just because you are married to someone, you reserve the right to talk to them (and even in public) like they are pond scum?”…..easy answer, the feminist movement which has now bled over into Christian circles with this “Jesus Feminist” bovine excrement. Women, especially Christian women, feel more empowered then ever these days to verbally flip their husbands off in private or in public because “I am woman, hear me roar”. Men feel disrespected MORE and MORE and the psycho-circle continues. Mark Twain once said “I can live for 2 months on a good compliment”.

  20. You could not be more wrong. This typical smug beration of the women in this situation is cheerleader of the boys club. Research shows that men more often openly betray their partner through abusive language, lying, ignoring, flirting, cheating – the list goes on. Women, on the other, use belittling language as a last resort of their partner’s behaviour.

  21. Exactly. Couldn’t agree more. In a different note check out http://realbench it is a mobile app that I found called RealBench, nice nifty tool for us investors, I love it. If you like the stuff posted at you will love it.

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