Does your partner constantly criticize you? Do you catch yourself nit picking all of the little things they say or do? Do disagreements often turn into personal attacks where one of you feels like they have to defend themselves? If so, you may have fallen into the common relationship pattern of criticism. Let’s start with what criticism is not. We are not talking about all kinds of critiques or suggestions for change. There are absolutely ways of voicing concerns or discussing relationship issues in ways that don’t utilize criticism. If you state that you wish that your partner was more affectionate, that is not a criticism. If your partner states that they would prefer if you change one of your habits, that is not criticism. Just because someone may take a request or a comment personally does not automatically mean that it is a criticism.
Criticisms are when someone judges who and what you are, and usually contain generalizations such as always or never. Some of the criticisms I hear often from couples are:
“You always forget to help with the chores. You are so lazy.”
“You never consider my feelings. You are so selfish.”
“What’s wrong with you? You never do things right.”
I’m certain that you can see how these statements can be harmful when they are laid out like this. However, when you are in a pattern of criticizing in your relationship, it’s much harder to recognize. It usually starts with small nit picking, or making fun of your partner for mistakes. It slowly escalates to generalizing their behaviors, and looking at the person as the problem rather than what they are doing. Sometimes people don’t even realize what they are saying, or they are so upset in the moment that they feel the comment is justified. Whether you realize it or not, this is one of the most destructive relationship patterns. So, if you think criticism has started creeping into your relationship, it’s time to get rid of it.
Start with self-compassion Usually when someone is criticizing a person they love, there is a component of low self-esteem or a lack of self-compassion. When we love and value ourselves, we have no desire to hurt those we love. So the critical partner may need to do some individual work to get to the root of why they are hurting or devaluing themselves. There are numerous methods for improving self-esteem and self-compassion. You can work with a therapist or try it on your own with self-help books like Radical Acceptance and The 6 Pillars of Self-Esteem.
Communicate differently The second part to learning how to eliminate criticism from your relationship is to learn alternate ways of communicating what you want. Rephrase You need to learn how to identify your request and phrase it in a constructive way. Rather than talking about how lazy they are, rephrase it to a statement of how much it would mean to you if they helped with a particular task. Instead of saying that they are never attentive, ask them to do something tangible and specific that would make you feel that they are paying attention to you.
Eliminate the absolutes Take the words always and never out of your vocabulary. They are not helpful in any way. It takes away from your ability to see the individual traits and behaviors. Even if you used always or never in a positive statement, it can be harmful by devaluing the individual gestures.
Show compassion If you love someone that means accepting them for who they are; not who you want them to be. You don’t have to love everything that they do or say, but you love them. This means that you show them compassion when they make mistakes and take the time to work through the patterns that you both decide should be changed. You express your concerns with kindness and request what you want from them in loving ways.
If you recognize that one or both of you have fallen into a pattern of criticism, you owe it to yourself and your partner to change the pattern. Make the decision to stop letting criticism clutter up your relationship. If you feel you need some extra help working through this issue, contact a local couples counselor or read more about it in The Relationship Cure.
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How do you keep criticism out of your relationship? Share with us.