Being critical is something we all do regularly. We use critical thinking skills on a daily basis to analyze what is going on around us. This skill can be very helpful in analyzing the world we live in and interact with constantly. However, this critical nature we have can cause many problems in a relationship. Problematic criticism can be between spouses or of oneself.
Criticism Between Spouses
Generally, criticism found in relationships tends to get worse over time. It starts small or subtly, but then gets bigger and deeper and ultimately serves only one purpose – pulling apart a relationship.
Can you think of a time where you your your spouse made a comment about the way something was being done? Perhaps it was the way they clean? Maybe it was the way they eat? In a relationship, there are endless potential sources for critical comments.
Dr. John Gottman pointed out in his many years of research in couples that criticism and the nature of criticism was one of the 4 key components to why marriages fail. And it is not just a few marriages here and there. Marriages where criticism is present have been predicted with 90% accuracy that they will end in divorce. The nature of criticism also forms one of Dr. Gottman’s Four Horsemen of The Apocalypse, the other 3 being: contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling.
What happens with criticism is that it serves as the basis for the 3 other horsemen to come riding into your marriage and wreak havoc between you and your spouse. And those other horsemen tend to be harder and costlier to work through and resolve.
Does this mean that if you criticize your partner that the two of you are headed towards divorce? No, but it does mean that you should work on correcting the pattern before it gets worse.
Let Go of the Tomato
Remember what we talked about in the chores post? Yep – letting things go. As you may have guessed, this is often easier said than done. Letting go can be one of the hardest skills for someone to master. Letting go involves taking your viewpoint on how or why something was done and putting it aside, despite every fiber of your being saying otherwise.
I once had an individual who came in for counseling, and they told me that they know they can be very critical of the things their spouse does or how they do specific tasks in the home. They gave an example about cutting a tomato. They told me their spouse chose to cut a tomato with a breadknife and the only thing that they wanted to do (and wound up doing) was to point out the fact that they were using the wrong knife to cut the tomato.
This person explained they knew that it really did not matter in the long run what knife was used, but they still felt the need to be critical and point out why what the other one was doing was wrong. Can you guess what happened next? Yup, an argument.
And this argument was not just centered around the wrong knife being used, all of the past critical comments and hurts came out. This argument became a full on fight which led to some difficult discussions between the two of them. So again, work to let go of the little things, in the end you won’t remember which knife they used for cutting the tomato, but you will remember the hurts and pain that comes with the fighting and arguing.
Where Does Criticism Come From?
Generally speaking, criticism is something that develops as you grow up. You learn about relationships from your parents, and chances are if you had a critical parent and you yourself are critical, this is where it stems from. Here’s the good news: you can change this pattern! If you are the one who is critical in your relationship try doing these things:
- Find out what it is you tend to criticize your partner most about. Is it little things like how they pronounce words? How they cut a tomato? Or is it bigger things like not feeling loved or wanted. Identifying the cause of what drives your criticism can help you begin to develop a plan to correct an change.
- Once you realize what your criticize most often, start by controlling yourself. If you find yourself wanting to attack your partner and be critical, walk away, distract yourself, break the cycle which has been taking over your relationship for years. Then when you feel more in control of yourself, come back to your partner and tell them what you are struggling with and that you are working on changing the behavior.
If you yourself are not the critical one, then you are reacting to the criticism in a way you as well learned from your parents or other relationships around you. Chances are you learned coping skills which are not helpful from seeing people around you do the same thing. If your partner is the one being critical, then here are some tips that you can take to work with:
- Identify how you cope with your spouse being critical. Do you turn to alcohol? Do you run away? Do you shut down and not talk? When you can identify the core way you cope, you can begin to do something different. It is easy to withdraw, pull way or disconnect, but this only serves to enhance the negative pattern in your life.
- After identifying how you react to your critical partner, I want you to prepare yourself to confront this head on. Find your strength, get brave, and talk to your partner about how you find yourself reacting to their criticism. Let them know how it feels to be put down and what you would like to see be different. A good way to change this is by using a Dialectical Behavior skill called DEAR MAN.
Accepting Who You Love
Another tool that can help to reduce criticism in a relationship is acceptance. Working on accepting things as they are, and not pointing out flaws can be a tremendous way to begin to heal.
Think back to when you were dating your spouse. Everything was great, you were able to let the little things go and not let them bother you. Take this same approach with your spouse now. Accept that the way they say or do something is just that – their way, not your way.
Take the energy and effort that you would have put into pointing out what was wrong with them and identify the positive things that you like and love about them. My guess is that if you focus on this, you will be able to look past the small things you have been critical about and allow yourself to see the things which attracted you to your partner to begin with.
Self-Criticism: It’s Just as Deadly
Being critical of yourself can also cause a relationship to fail over time. The more you put yourself down, the more you begin to doubt your capabilities in life. This can lead to reduced enjoyment in life, less satisfaction with your partner, and a more negative outlook on things going on around you.
If you find yourself being critical of your own self, one way to tackle this is to think about the truth behind your thoughts. Do you have a fact or 5 to back those thoughts up? Chances are you do not. When you don’t have facts to back up a negative thought, you can let that thought go as not being true or valid. I see people who have poor self-esteem and are highly critical of themselves do really well with challenging their negative thoughts and taking control of the criticism within themselves which ultimately leads to a happier relationship.
Another way to overcome this is to talk with your partner about how you feel about yourself. They can actually help with the challenging negative thoughts task and help you see things from another perspective.
Hopefully you and your partner can take some of these tools and techniques and begin to make some positive changes in your relationship. I truly believe that these skills can help reduce your arguments and fights and lead to a happier and healthier relationship.
Until next time – live truly, love fully!