Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Deal with constant pressure to change by not changing
Va.: My husband habitually gives me unsolicited advice. This is a real point of contention between us. It hurts my feelings that the person who knows me the most uses my shortcomings to criticize. He thinks he's helping me improve myself, but his input isn't helping and he is just hurting my feelings. I've tried to talk to him several times about this. How can I get the point across?
Carolyn: How about: "I don't want to improve. More than that, I want you to like me the way I am, the way I like you*, and not see me as a fixer-upper." (*If true.)
For the record, this is a very difficult dynamic to break. If your husband has an image of you that doesn't align with reality; if he loves this image, vs. the reality of you; and if his criticism is geared toward making you fit his image, then you have no less formidable a hurdle than changing the person he married.
Of course you won't actually change; you'll remain you. But that's not who he accepts as real.
So you need to — strange as it sounds — be yourself in plain sight, and not yield to pressure to conform to his vision.
Unless his vision of you was way off, he may well come to like the reality better, if you're patient but firm in insisting he sees it. That's because you'll likely be more relaxed once you free yourself to stop trying to conform — and relaxed people not only make for pleasant company, but they're also less likely to take other people's hangups to heart.
Anonymous: Re: Unsolicited Advice: I am the person in my marriage who always gives unsolicited advice. I do not mean any harm, and I do like who my husband is. He said it hurts his feelings, that he is being criticized too much.
So I've been trying to figure out why I keep doing it, and it's just ingrained in me to try to improve things. At work, it's my job to look at things in different ways to determine how the process can be improved. I do this to myself too, and I didn't see it as being critical but just looking for ways to do better.
But I think he is right; it comes across as criticism. I stop for a while, then slip back into my old habits. How can I change?
Carolyn: Have you told him you want to stop?
Often the impulse is to explain your actions, with the intent of reassuring the other person. For example, "it's just ingrained in me to always try to improve things. At work it's part of my job …" and on and on.
However, to the other person, those sound like what they are: rationalizations. They say, "I'm not doing anything wrong, but I'll stop if you want."
If you regret your behavior and don't say so explicitly, then you can't assume he knows. It has to be, in your heart and in your words: "I'm wrong to think that my way is best for everybody, and I will do whatever I can to break the habit."
I doubt "Va." would have written in if her husband had said that to her.