Ask Sheila: My Friend Insults Her Husband in Public!

by | Dec 3, 2018 | Abuse, Resolving Conflict, Uncategorized | 22 comments

How to resolve conflict with friends if they're in a mean relationship! How you should approach them in situations when they're publicly shaming the other.
Merchandise is Here!

What do you do if you have a friend who is just plain mean to her husband?

On Mondays I like to take a reader question and take a stab at answering it–sometimes in a blog post and sometimes in a video. This was a great question that fits perfectly in our month on boundaries, and so Rebecca and I discussed it in this week’s Ask Sheila video (and, yes, we filmed this one before I got my hair cut, for those of you who follow me on social media and have seen the new me!)
A reader asks:

Reader Question

My husband and I have another couple we are really good friends with. At least once, or more, when we hang out with them, the wife cuts her husband down. And it can be brutal, or subtle, but she makes at least 1 or more comments to tear her husband down. You’ve mentioned this type of situation, I think, but I seriously do not know if I should say something, or not say anything. I don’t know if I should keep my mouth shut, or point out how mean she is. The other thing is, my husband is best friends with her husband, and I am not as close to her, simply because of her crabby and mean attitude. It just kinda pains me to see her constantly hitting him with these barbs. But I don’t know that it will do any good to address the situation.
Here’s how we answered her:
A few quick points, for those who don’t want to watch the whole video.

Speak up when you hear something.

Don’t mention it afterwards, when you’re one on one. You’ll get into a debate about whether or not she actually said that. Say something right then and there! (This works for pretty much any relationship).

Just parrot back what she said.

You don’t even need to call her out specifically for being mean. You can just parrot back what she said. “Are you saying your husband is completely careless? Do you really think your husband is that idiotic?”
As you do this, you also set an example for the spouse to start speaking up, too.

Support the spouse who is being insulted

It’s important for same sex friends to come alongside someone who is being berated by a spouse and just be told, “what you are experiencing is wrong.” They may not realize it, and they may feel really beaten down by it. To have you say, “Yeah, that’s really not right” may give them the courage to speak up.
I hope that helps! But now let’s talk in the comments:
Have you ever been out with a couple where one spouse criticizes the other? What did you do? What did you wish you had done?
How to resolve conflict with friends if they're in a mean relationship! How you should approach them in situations when they're publicly shaming the other.

[adrotate banner="302"]<!-- [et_pb_line_break_holder] --><!-- [et_pb_line_break_holder] -->[adrotate group="11"]

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

Related Posts

Is Your Pastor a Shepherd or a Hired Hand?

Some pastors are not simply unsafe; they are downright dangerous. And some church elder's boards, church's women's ministries, and denominations in general are downright dangerous. We had a horrible example of that earlier this month when John Piper posted a terrible...


We welcome your comments and want this to be a place for healthy discussion. Comments that are rude, profane, or abusive will not be allowed. Comments that are unrelated to the current post may be deleted. Comments above 300 words in length are let through at the moderator’s discretion and may be shortened to the first 300 words or deleted. By commenting you are agreeing to the terms outlined in our comment and privacy policy, which you can read in full here!


  1. Flo

    Recurring public verbal abuse can be one of the signs of narcissistic personality – tearing down the confidence and social standing of the spouse in order to better control them.

    • Kay

      I find it a little extreme to jump that far on so little information. It sounds like the wife is merely a critical person, which tends to be either something she was taught by her parents growing up, is to cover up her own areas of pain, or could be mild as her just thinking that male bashing is widely accepted and expected, like she’s winking at the other women present like it is an inside joke, which is very common. Any of these three or a combination of them is far more likely than her being a narcissist. She could be, of course, but a wife tearing down her husband is a very common thing that happens. We just don’t have enough to go off of here.
      It sounds like the OP also may not be close enough to this woman to explore the *why* behind her behavior either, unfortunately. I think it makes sense to mirror it back, to ask for clarification, to say something that implies “surely you didn’t mean to say…” that lets her know this is NOT socially acceptable behavior. But I also like the idea of the OP’s husband saying to him, “So my wife and I were talking and we were bothered by how your wife treated you. That wasn’t cool. Are you two doing okay?”

  2. Katie

    My mother-in-law treats my father-in-law like this. She verbally berates him, and tears him down, and treats him like an idiot. Because of the whole parent/child dynamic there isn’t much we can do about it, it’s been this way my husbands entire life and it really upsets him. Calling her out in the moment doesn’t do anything- she will deny it even when confronted immediately with “no, you must have misunderstood me and then she changes the subject.” It’s actually such a big deal to him that it’s one of the reasons we don’t see them often-
    maybe twice a year and just for an hour or two over dinner)…my husband does not want this behavior modeled for them.

    • Rebecca Lindenbach

      Wow, Katie, that is really tough. It’s hard when it’s family–especially older family members.
      I wonder if, when specific things happen, saying something like, “Would you want me to speak to your son like that?” may make her think of it differently. Sometimes, when it’s endangering the relationship between your husband and his parents, it may even be a good idea for your husband to write out in a letter how it affects him. Not an angry, aggressive letter but just matter-of-fact. With people who jump to defensiveness sometimes it’s good to have a natural time-lag between when they read the letter and when you’ll next be together so there’s time to actually give it real thought.
      But how great that your husband has managed to break the cycle in his family of that kind of speech–that’s a huge feat, and he should be really proud of himself.

  3. Natalie

    I’ll admit, I’ve done this before… frequently. Very not proud of it. For me, I only criticize my husband when we’re by ourselves at home or when we’re with my parents (but not extended family & not around his family, and definitely not around any of our friends because I do have a filter in those situations, whereas apparently I have none when I’m around the people I’m closest to in my life: my husband, mother and father). And I only criticize him on things concerning his food consumption and weight, and apparent lack of desire/inability to change those things even though those are the things he likes least about himself.
    Earlier in our relationship, it started out with me trying to remind him of whichever body goal du jour he had. For example, we were at Thanksgiving with my family shortly after our marriage and he wanted to keep on losing weight like he’d done for the wedding. He also decided to get 2 huge platefuls of food and 3 large slices of various different pies, all with delicious vanilla ice cream on top of each slice. I think somewhere in the evening I leaned over and said something like “Whoa there, aren’t you overdoing it? You can always have leftovers tomorrow.” I tried to make it subtle and quiet so the rest of the family wouldn’t hear.
    Well, as the years went on and he seemed to not only ignore but total do the opposite of every subtle hint I gave him, I grew less and less subtle. So much so that this past summer when we were in my parents’ backyard, I made some not very nice comment about how my husband should invest in some longer shirts if he was going to be lifting his arms up and down (I think he was helping my dad work on the patio covering). My mom right then and there in front of my husband and dad told me that that was rude, unbecoming and a bad witness to say something so mean to my husband, and that talk like that should be left for when he and I are together alone. Honestly, till she said that, I didn’t really think about not only what I’d been saying to him but also how I’d been phrasing it. A criticism of one’s spouse in public settings can often be rephrased to not seem so mean and critical.
    And looking back on why I said things like that to him, I realize that i came from a place of bitterness and resentment in my own heart: bitterness that he didn’t listen to my good health advice and resentment for the fact that he seemed to not care at all how his growing size was effecting not only our marriage and sex life but also my image of him in my mind.
    In the past 6 months, I’ve been doing a lot of self reflection and trying to come to terms with my husband’s weight issues and how I’ve let them effect me. I’ve also been praying for God to change my heart and remove all the bitterness and resentment I have towards my husband on this issue. It’s been getting better, and while I may often still think thoughts like that, I say them far less frequently than I used to and never in public now. And “miraculously”, with me making little snide comments about his weight here and there and instead not discussing it and telling him things I love about it, he’s been taking the initiative to lose weight on his own. Granted, it’s happening very slowly for a man who has 125lbs to lose, but at least it’s happening! I’m proud of him for it (& also angry at myself for all the things I half-consciously said to him that tore him down over the years and contributed to the issue I disliked so much in him).

    • Megan Elzey

      I think this happens within relationships more than people realize. Many spouses are critical of one another for various reasons, and unfortunately it is just easy to get into the habit of not controlling our tongues or thinking about how our words can affect our spouse. I commend you for having a heart that was willing to look at the situation and realize that your mother was right and truly aim to have a heart change. I’m proud of you for seeking to change that habitual pattern of words you use. We can all learn from you!

    • Rebecca Lindenbach

      WOW, what an awesome comment–often I think that cutting speech comes from a place of hurt, brokenness, or fear more often than it does a place of malicious intent. It’s amazing hearing about this from your perspective, since it’s so easy to see areas where I am doing this, too, by reading your comment. And I’m so glad that your husband taking his health more seriously now, because that IS an important issue and it’s wonderful to see someone take steps in the right direction!
      Thank you for sharing–such an important testimony!

    • AJ

      Wow, so honest and vulnerable! I hope you’ve had a chance to apologize and make restitution with him!! ❤️

    • Kaylene

      I’ll give you another thought about his weight. I lost my younger brother last year at 61. Massive heart attack. He was grossly overweight. I miss him terribly along with his wife, children & grandchildren. He had struggled with his weight for most of his adult life. He lost some thru lap band but didn’t change his eating habits.
      If you let him know you’re concerned for him and want him to be around a long time, maybe it would help.

  4. jls

    I think, depending on the situation, it is worth flat out telling the person, “that comment/attitude/behavior” is unbecoming of you.
    I think phrasing it like that can tell them that it reflects all on them, not on whoever they are belittling. That way they can’t argue about the validity of their statement, but it can also signal that you think they are better than petty meanness.

    • Jen

      How a simple but sarcastic “Well *thats* sexy!” And a bit of a shocked look on your face. I think that says “that’s unbecoming” without her being able to come back and say “well listen to yourself too!”

  5. Ashley

    Oh, what an awful situation. I do think it’s important for people to not judge too quickly, and make sure they understand the situation. I’m thinking of an instance when my ex and I were out with another couple, and I had to go to the bathroom. My ex made a comment about it and embarrassed me. I told him not to be a jerk about it. One of our friends thought I was being mean by saying that, but I was only reacting to the fact that he had already been unkind to me, and I was basically asking him to cut it out. I hope this makes sense.
    The email question doesn’t sound like this kind of situation. But other readers may run into a similar dynamic as mine at times.

  6. Elly

    Can I add that constant tearing down doesn’t just affect the spouse being criticized, it also affects the kids witnessing it day in, day out. Speaking as one of those (now adult) kids, whose dad shut down emotionally towards everyone (including us) because he couldn’t win no matter what he did, PLEASE watch how you speak. You have the power of life or death in your words; the power to build up or the power to destroy. Choose wisely.

  7. Monica

    I have been guilty of this. It has been due to two reasons. The first, I have found that when I have been nervous and wanted to fit in with the conversation I’ll say some bad comment about my husband. Kind of a knee jerk reaction to the conversation and a self-esteem issue. Not very mature, but I’m becoming more aware of when I do it and therefore have been able to stop myself lately. In fact, I was noticing that the other day I actually said some very nice things about him. The second, I have done it when I have been feeling angry with him. We have had a very difficult marriage and sometimes I just needed to say something to someone, just to have myself validated. I learned this from my mother, who also had a very difficult marriage and wanted people to know the pain she was in. This has been a bad and ingrained habit. We’ve been going to therapy for a year and a half, I’ve have lost over thirty pounds and I now take care of myself first (the oxygen mask theory). He has been so much nicer and present with me and the kids. He’s really trying and has become aware of the people closest to him and our feelings. This makes it very hard to say anything negative about him. Also, I’ve been going out with some mom friends and have noticed that there is one mom in particular that says, “I have nothing negative to say about my husband. He is the most loving and kind man I know.” This makes her one of the coolest people I know and I would like to be that cool too. If this mom had personally confronted me, I would have been mortified and never went out with them again and consequently never learned a valuable lesson.
    Sometimes, at least for me, learning by example is less shaming.

  8. BCMan

    Constantly belittling one’s spouse is verbal and emotional abuse, serving to humiliate and degrade the spouse. It’s incumbent on anyone who witnesses it not to be silent.

    • Rebecca Lindenbach

      Although all forms of verbal abuse include constant belittling, not all cases of constant belittling are abuse. We need to be careful to (a) offer support to spouses who are being mistreated but also (b) not put such strong labels on people who have a habit of speaking poorly to their spouse because it honestly may not be an abusive situation, and they may be open and amenable to change. And calling people who are simply being mean abusers isn’t always true and definitely isn’t the best way to get them to rethink how they’re speaking to their spouse.
      So in some cases, this can definitely be a sign of abuse. But not in all. And since we’re not psychologists and even psychologists can’t diagnose over the internet, I just think we need to be careful before putting catch-all labels on something that is as nuanced as this particular thing.

  9. Molly

    So this comment isn’t about spouses tearing each other down, but families. I’ve been out of contact with my dad’s family for a couple years now. I just went to lunch with my sisters, dad, and grandma. My husband was home with our kids. When asked what hubby was up to, i said taking care of the kids and doing laundry. My grandma made a snide comment about it being nice that my husband does my job for me. And then, i realized how glad i am that I’ve limited contact with that side of the family.

  10. Roxy

    Wow, great advice thanks for sharing!! I had the same experience about a year ago. The couple ended up getting a divorce recently. I don’t think she understood how mean she was. I wish I would have had your advice then, but it’s still helpful to me now. Thank you!

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      You’re so welcome!

  11. Sasha Hoyt

    Most people don’t realize that criticizing your spouse in public says more about you than the spouse. Even if what you say is true, you chose that person as your partner. Apparently you are either not a good judge of character or think very little of yourselves to think you didn’t deserve someone better.
    My mom used to tell me and my sister:
    “Talk about your husband like a king and you are the queen.
    Talk about your husband like a piece of trash and you are the dump.”

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      So true! I often wonder why people don’t see that. Like, you did pick him! Now, sometimes we’re young and silly and we don’t see genuine warning signs of a defective personality. But those women are also not usually the ones criticizing!

  12. Adri

    hi, well, this post its almost 2 months old, but I was looking for something like this. Girl that used to be one of my bf was having issues with her husband, who happens to be my husband’s bff; she then loose control over insulting him in front of us and she started doing it on a regular basis. I’ve been trying to stay away for us 4 going out together mainly because I can’t stand the way she talks to him. She is loud and gets frustrated so easily that I know if I say something she will probably get upset and stomp out the door. We’ve been friends for so long that Im not sure what to do, she thinks Im siding with her husband whenever I say anything. Should I just let this friendship dissolve or try to fix it? Some days Im not even sure I enjoy hanging out with her anymore.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published.